Aphasia is a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate. Aphasia can affect your ability to express 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 slowly growing brain tumor or a degenerative disease. The amount of disability depends on the location and the severity of the brain damage.
Once the underlying cause has been treated, the primary treatment for aphasia is speech therapy that focuses on relearning and practicing language skills and using alternative or supplementary communication methods. Family members often participate in the therapy process and function as communication partners of the person with aphasia.
Aphasia is a sign of some other condition, such as a stroke or a brain tumor.
A person with aphasia may:
The severity and scope of the problems depend on the extent of damage and the area of the brain affected. Some people may comprehend what others say relatively well but struggle to find words to speak. Other people may be able to understand what they read but yet can't speak so that others can understand them.
Types of aphasia
When to see a doctor
The most common cause of aphasia is brain damage resulting from a stroke — the blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. This disruption of the blood supply leads to brain cell death or damage in areas of the brain controlling 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.
Preparing for your appointment
If your aphasia is due to a stroke or head injury, you'll probably first be seen by an emergency room physician. You'll then be seen by 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 any time to prepare. If possible, bring any medications or supplements that you take with you to the hospital so that your doctor is aware of what you've taken.
When you have follow-up appointments, you'll likely need a friend or loved one 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:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will likely request an imaging test, such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (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:
Treatments and drugs
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
Coping and support
People with aphasia
Family and friends
Last Updated: 2012-05-08
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