Some conditions, including stroke or head injury, can seriously affect a person's ability to communicate. Learn about this condition and its care.
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). The severity of aphasia depends on a number of conditions, including the cause and the extent of the brain damage.
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.
Aphasia is a sign of some other condition, such as a stroke or a brain tumor.
A person with aphasia may:
People with aphasia may have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses.
Expressive aphasia. This is also called Broca's or nonfluent aphasia. People with this pattern of aphasia may understand what other people say better than they can speak. People with this pattern of aphasia struggle to get words out, speak in very short sentences and omit words. A person might say, "Want food" or "Walk park today."
A listener can usually understand the meaning, but people with this aphasia pattern are often aware of their difficulty communicating and may get frustrated. They may also have right-sided paralysis or weakness.
Because aphasia is often a sign of a serious problem, such as a stroke, seek emergency medical care if you suddenly develop:
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.
Aphasia can create numerous quality-of-life problems because communication is so much a part of your life. Communication difficulty may affect your:
Language barriers may lead to embarrassment, depression and relationship problems.
Your doctor will likely give you a physical and a neurological exam, test your strength, feeling and reflexes, and listen to your heart and the vessels in your neck. He or she will likely request an imaging test, usually an MRI, to quickly identify what's causing the aphasia.
You'll also likely undergo tests and informal observations to assess your language skills, such as the ability to:
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.
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 aims to improve the person's ability to communicate by restoring as much language as possible, teaching how to make up for lost language skills and finding other methods of communicating.
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.
Brain stimulation is currently being studied for aphasia treatment and may help improve the ability to name things. But no long-term research has been done yet. One treatment is called transcranial magnetic stimulation and another is transcranial direct current stimulation.
These treatments aim to stimulate damaged brain cells. Both are noninvasive. One uses magnetic fields and the other uses a low current through electrodes placed on the head.
If you have aphasia, the following tips may help you communicate with others:
Family members and friends can use the following tips when communicating with a person with aphasia:
Local chapters of such organizations as the National Aphasia Association, the American Stroke Association, the American Heart Association and some medical centers may offer support groups for people with aphasia and others affected by the disorder. These groups provide people with a sense of community and a place to air frustrations and learn coping strategies. Ask your doctor or speech-language pathologist if he or she knows of any local support groups.
If your aphasia is due to a stroke or head injury, you'll probably first see an emergency room physician. You'll then see a doctor who specializes in disorders of the nervous system (neurologist), and you may eventually be referred to a speech-language pathologist for rehabilitation.
Because this condition generally arises as an emergency, you won't have time to prepare. If possible, bring the medications or supplements you take with you to the hospital so that your doctor is aware of them.
When you have follow-up appointments, you'll likely need a companion to drive you to your doctor's office. In addition, this person may be able to help you communicate with your doctor.
Some questions a loved one or friend may want to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor will likely have questions, too. A loved one or friend can help your doctor get the information needed. Your doctor may ask:
November 13th, 2021