What is Aphasia?

What is Aphasia?Aphasia is a communication disorder that occurs because of damage to the parts of the brain that contain language. As a result, it can lead to problems with speaking, listening, reading, writing and swallowing. While an individual with aphasia may have difficulties performing these tasks, it does not affect their intelligence level.                             

What causes aphasia?

Most often, aphasia occurs after a stroke or when there is damage on the left side of an individual’s brain. Our language abilities, logical reasoning, analytical skills and writing abilities are housed in the left side if the brain.  Brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries and certain neurological disorders can also lead to aphasia.

What are the symptoms of aphasia?      

No two people have the exact same signs and symptoms of aphasia because it is related to the amount and location of the brain damage. Most individuals with aphasia can understand what people are saying to them, but have difficulty forming sentences or generally respond with words that do not make sense. Some of the general symptoms include:
  • Difficulty producing language
    • Trouble coming up with the words they want to say
    • Substituting one word for another word related to the meaning of the intended word or unrelated completely (ex: saying, “chicken” instead of “fish” or saying, “radio” rather than “ball”)
    • Switching sounds within words
    • Using made-up words
    • Difficulty putting words together to create sentences
    • Stringing together a sentence of real and made-up words that do not make sense
  • Difficulty understanding language
    • Misunderstanding what others are saying, especially if they speak fast or use long sentences
    • Difficulty understanding speech or background noise, especially when in a group
    • Misinterpreting jokes for their literal meaning
  • Difficulty reading and writing
    • Difficulty reading forms, pamphlets, books and other materials
    • Difficulty spelling words
    • Difficulty telling time, counting money, adding and subtracting, etc.  

How is aphasia diagnosed and can it be treated?

About one million people suffer from aphasia in the United States, according to the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke. To diagnose the condition, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) completes an evaluation to determine the cause of the disorder. The SLP assessment includes auditory comprehension, verbal expression, reading and writing skills, as well as functional communications, which include the person’s ability to use gestures and other ways to communicate.
Once diagnosed, there are a variety of treatment options available. The type of treatment will depend on the severity of the condition and what verbal/language skills were affected in the individual. A trained SLP will provide activities to improve specific abilities that have been affected by the damaged portion of the brain. They will also give the patient strategies to improve communication in everyday situations. Treatments can be done in both individual and group settings. The SLP may work with vocational trainers to help the individual get back to school or work if appropriate.

Communicating with those who have aphasia

There are many ways to communicate better with someone who has aphasia. Make sure to get the individual’s attention before you start speaking and keep good eye contact the entire time. Try to avoid any background noise and communicate simply and slowly to the person, while maintaining adult-like communication -- don’t talk down to someone with aphasia. Encourage the person to use gestures or body language and try to offer more “yes” or “no” questions versus open-ended ones. Most importantly, encourage the individual to join in normal activities and to be independent whenever possible.
If you or a loved one is experiencing communication difficulties after a stroke or other traumatic brain injury, the Speech-Language Institute has a team of trained SLPs that can help.

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