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Definition

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate. It can affect your ability to speak, write and understand language, both verbal and written.

Aphasia typically occurs suddenly after a stroke or a head injury. But it can also come on gradually from a slow-growing brain tumor or a disease that causes progressive, permanent damage (degenerative). Where and how bad the brain damage is and what caused it determine the degree of disability.

Once the cause has been addressed, the main treatment for aphasia is speech and language therapy. The person with aphasia relearns and practices language skills and learns to use other ways to communicate. Family members often participate in the process, helping the person communicate.

How common is aphasia?

The National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that approximately one million individuals suffer from aphasia in the United States. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of aphasia?

The common symptoms of aphasia are:

  • Trouble speaking
  • Struggling with finding the appropriate term or word
  • Using strange or inappropriate words in conversation

Some people with aphasia have problems understanding what others are saying. The problems occur particularly when the person is tired or in a crowded or loud environment. Aphasia does not affect thinking skills. But the person may have problems understanding written material and difficulties with handwriting. Some people have trouble using numbers or even doing simple calculations.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Trouble understanding speech
  • Difficulty with word recall
  • Problems with reading or writing

Causes

What causes aphasia?

The most common cause of aphasia is brain damage resulting from a stroke — the blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. Loss of blood to the brain leads to brain cell death or damage in areas that control language.

Brain damage caused by a severe head injury, a tumor, an infection or a degenerative process also can cause aphasia. In these cases, the aphasia usually occurs with other types of cognitive problems, such as memory problems or confusion.

Primary progressive aphasia is the term used for language difficulty that develops gradually. This is due to the gradual degeneration of brain cells located in the language networks. Sometimes this type of aphasia will progress to a more generalized dementia.

Sometimes temporary episodes of aphasia can occur. These can be due to migraines, seizures or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA occurs when blood flow is temporarily blocked to an area of the brain. People who’ve had a TIA are at an increased risk of having a stroke in the near future.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for aphasia?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is aphasia diagnosed?

Usually, a doctor first diagnoses aphasia when treating a patient for a stroke, brain injury, or tumor. Using a series of neurological tests, the doctor may ask the person questions. The doctor may also issue specific commands and ask the person to name different items or objects. The results of these tests help the doctor determine if the person has aphasia. They also help determine the severity of the aphasia.

How is aphasia treated?

If the brain damage is mild, a person may recover language skills without treatment. However, most people undergo speech and language therapy to rehabilitate their language skills and supplement their communication experiences. Researchers are currently investigating the use of medications, alone or in combination with speech therapy, to help people with aphasia.

Speech and language rehabilitation

Recovery of language skills is usually a relatively slow process. Although most people make significant progress, few people regain full pre-injury communication levels.

For aphasia, speech and language therapy tries to improve the person’s ability to communicate by restoring as much language as possible, teaching how to compensate for lost language skills and finding other methods of communicating.

Therapy:

  • Starts early. Some studies have found that therapy is most effective when it begins soon after the brain injury.
  • Often works in groups. In a group setting, people with aphasia can try out their communication skills in a safe environment. Participants can practice initiating conversations, speaking in turn, clarifying misunderstandings and fixing conversations that have completely broken down.
  • May include use of computers. Using computer-assisted therapy can be especially helpful for relearning verbs and word sounds (phonemes).

Medications

Certain drugs are currently being studied for the treatment of aphasia. These include drugs that may improve blood flow to the brain, enhance the brain’s recovery ability or help replace depleted chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters). Several medications, such as memantine (Namenda) and piracetam, have shown promise in small studies. But more research is needed before these treatments can be recommended.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage aphasia?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with aphasia:

  • Use props to help get the message across.
  • Draw words or pictures on paper when trying to communicate.
  • Speak slowly and stay calm when talking.
  • Carry a card to let strangers know you have aphasia and what aphasia means.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: August 11, 2017 | Last Modified: August 11, 2017

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