Over 5 million Americans have survived a stroke, but many strokes leave lasting damage. This damage is often in the form of aphasia, an impairment of language that affects anything from speaking, to comprehending speech, to the ability to read or white. Any form of brain injury can result in aphasia, but the most common cause is stroke.
The Facts About Aphasia
Aphasia is not well known, but it's more common than many other familiar conditions, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or muscular dystrophy:
- 750,000 strokes occur in the United States every year.
- Around one-third of strokes result in aphasia. This means roughly 250,000 cases in the U.S. each year.
- At least 2 million Americans have aphasia.
Despite the prevalence of aphasia, it's unfamiliar to many people. Surveys by the National Aphasia Association show that:
- 84.5 percent of people surveyed have never heard the term "Aphasia."
- 8.8 percent of people can identify aphasia as a language disorder.
- 34 percent of people had aphasia or knew someone who does.
- 84 percent of people are aware there is a connection between stroke and brain injury, and difficulty with communication.
Symptoms of Aphasia
There are many varieties of aphasia that take many different pathways, affecting different parts of language comprehension or production. They include:
- Global aphasia: a severe form often seen immediately after a stroke in which patients can produce few recognizable words and understand little to no spoken language. Can improve over time if brain damage isn't too severe.
- Broca's aphasia: "non-fluent aphasia," in which speech is severely limited, usually to utterances of fewer than four words, and requires a great deal of effort.
- Mixed non-fluent aphasia: similar to Broca's aphasia, but also with limited speech comprehension, as well as an elementary-level reading and writing ability.
- Wernicke's aphasia: "fluent aphasia," in which understanding spoken words is impaired, but producing words requires little effort. Produced language can be poorly structured, however, and reading and writing are usually severely impaired.
- Anomic aphasia: A persistent difficulty in finding proper descriptive words, both in speech and writing. Grammatical form and production are usually fluent, and both understanding language and reading can be adequate to fluent.
- Primary Progressive Aphasia: caused by neurodegenerative diseases, this involves language capabilities slowly and progressively becoming impaired due to brain tissue deterioration.
These are only some of the varieties of aphasia, which can involve different combinations of impairments, and other forms of impairment including difficulty with calculations.
Aphasia is most commonly treated through speech and language therapy. The goals of this therapy are to:
- Reduce Impairment: restore as much of your speech and language as possible.
- Increase Communication: help you communicate as frequently and fluently as possible.
- Create Alternatives: help you find compensatory methods of communication or assistance in communicating.
- Educate: help patients and loved ones understand aphasia and the patient's specific needs better.
Speech and language therapy is a process that may take many hours over a long period of time to restore communicative abilities. It can be done intensively or in shorter sessions, one-on-one or in groups. Each therapy is tailored to the specific needs of the patient.
Living with Aphasia
Therapy can help to restore language and speaking abilities, but living with aphasia may require alternative methods of communication. These might include:
- Communication charts: large grids containing letters, words, or pictures.
- Smartphone apps.
- VOCAs: voice output communication aids, electronic devices or programs that play a computer-generated voice aloud.
Loved Ones with Aphasia
Living with someone who has aphasia can make communication difficult, and it will likely require at least some modification to how you communicate with them as well. Here are some tips:
- Be Patient: give your loved one plenty of time to speak. Anxiety about speaking can make it more difficult. Avoid finishing their sentences or correcting mistakes, which can cause frustration.
- Simplify Your Language: Ask closed, yes-or-no questions. Speak in short, uncomplicated sentences and keep the conversation focused, without topic changes.
- Reduce Distractions and Background Noise.
- Use Visual References: Write key words, draw diagrams or pictures, use gestures, or point to objects to increase clarity.