What is aphasia?

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that results in loss of the ability to produce or understand language. Aphasia is not a loss of intelligence. Aphasia occurs when the language centers of the brain are damaged. This could be due to an injury to the brain, such as from a stroke or traumatic brain injury. It can also gradually occur from progressive conditions such as a brain tumor or degenerative brain diseases.

What are the symptoms of aphasia?

Aphasia is different for everyone. The type and severity of the aphasia depends on factors such as the location and extent of the damage that was sustained to the brain. Aphasia can cause impairments in four primary areas: spoken language expression, spoken language comprehension, writing and reading. Aphasia affects people in various ways.

Common signs of aphasia include:

  • Having trouble finding words (anomia) resulting in effortful and slow speech.
  • Grammatical errors.
  • Substituting sounds or words or making up words.
  • Speaking in short, fragmented phrases and omitting smaller function words.
  • Nonsensical speech.
  • Difficulty understanding others.
  • Requiring extra time to understand and respond to spoken messages.
  • Unreliable “yes” “no” responses.
  • Difficulty writing or copying letters, words, and sentences.
  • Having trouble comprehending written material such as a book.
  • Frustration during communication tasks
  • Reduced participation in social engagements

What are the types of aphasia?

There are multiple types of aphasia that are identified based on the individual’s unique pattern of impaired language abilities. Classification can be complicated, especially since aphasia symptoms can often co-occur with motor speech and cognitive deficits. A person’s symptoms may not fit neatly into one aphasia subtype and their classification may change over time with recovery.

There are two broad categories of aphasia: fluent and non-fluent. Within these categories are various subtypes. The two most common types of aphasia are named after language centers in the brain, Broca’s aphasia and Wernicke’s aphasia. A person with Broca’s aphasia may have intact comprehension and know what they want to say but may speak in short or incomplete and effortful phases. On the other hand, a person with Wernicke’s aphasia may speak in long sentences using made-up or incorrect words with little to no awareness.

10 Things I Wish People Knew About Aphasia

The following tips were provided by people living with aphasia. These quotes were obtained during a local online monthly communication group for people living with communication disorders. Messages were co-constructed with assistance from a speech pathologist to ensure each person’s message was received correctly.

Cognition and Aphasia

Aphasia is a loss of language, not intellect. A person with aphasia often has relatively intact cognitive skills; however, cognitive deficits may also co-occur with aphasia. Aspects of cognition related to aphasia may include impairments in attention, memory, executive function skills and pragmatics.

While strokes and brain injury can cause an immediate change in communication, a condition known as Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) can result in gradual loss of language. Primary Progressive Aphasia is a neurodegenerative disease in which a person’s language capabilities become slowly and progressively impaired due to degeneration of brain tissue in the parts of the brain that control speech and language. PPA is distinct from Alzheimer’s disease in that it impacts language first and not memory. Given that PPA is progressive, language abilities continue to deteriorate over time and eventually cognitive impairments occur as well.

How speech language pathologists can help

Speech pathologists work with patients with aphasia to help them regain their ability to communicate. Treatment is individualized and aims to improve a patient’s overall life participation. Treatment typically includes restorative approaches to target an individual’s impairments to improve language ability as much as possible. Compensatory approaches are also emphasized to assist patients to learn other ways of communicating, such as gestures, pictures or use of electronic devices.

A large goal of therapy is to also provide community support and help individuals integrate back into their communities. Group therapy offers an excellent opportunity to utilize new communication skills in a small group setting.

Family involvement is highly encouraged. Speech pathologists work closely with caregivers to educate and train them on the best ways to communicate with their loved ones.

In addition to speech language pathologists, a care team for a patient with aphasia may include neurologists, cardiologists, occupational and physical therapists, nurse practitioners, case managers and social workers, and audiologists.

If you are concerned about symptoms of communication or memory loss speak with your primary care provider. To learn more about speech therapy and speech language pathology at Lifespan visit us online.

Olivia Hobson, MA, CCC-SLP

Olivia Hobson, MA, CCC-SLP

Olivia Hobson, SLP, is a speech language pathologist with Lifespan Outpatient Rehabilitation.