Aphasia FAQs

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What is aphasia and how are professionals treating this condition?

Considering the condition affects more than 2 million Americans, the general public seems to have very little knowledge about aphasia.

Defined as a loss of ability to express or understand speech caused by brain damage, aphasia is most commonly associated with stroke. And while that’s not inaccurate, the reality is that other conditions, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s can cause the development of the condition.

For some people with Alzheimer’s and other conditions, language decline can be similarly or equally problematic as memory loss. An acquired language disorder brought on by damage to the left half of the brain, aphasia affects both a person’s ability to express themselves as well as their ease in understanding others.

It can impact the ability to form complete sentences, make it difficult to find the right word in certain circumstances, or make reading and writing a challenge. People can endure mild cases of aphasia, or be severely impacted by the condition.

Many people treat individuals with aphasia as if they require constant surveillance when in many cases, nothing could be further than the truth. Persons with aphasia can often return to driving, preparing food, exercising—even a return to work is not out of the question, depending upon occupation. The struggles associated with the condition are limited to processing of language.

With some of the basic outlined, we take a closer look at different types of aphasia and the outlook for treatment.

Types of Aphasia

The condition is defined in terms of severity and variety of symptoms. In rough order of severity, here are some of the most common types of aphasia:

Global Aphasia. This most severe form of aphasia is used to describe the condition present in patients who can understand little to no spoken language and produce few recognizable words. With the complete loss of the ability to read or write, these individuals struggle greatly to communicate with others.

Often observed immediately after a stroke of other impairment, the good news/bad news scenario with global aphasia is as follows: rapid improvement may be observed in cases where damage is not overly extensive; however, the greater the brain damage, the more severe and permanent the condition is likely to be.

Broca’s Aphasia. Often referenced as ‘non-fluent’ aphasia due to the halting quality of speech, Broca’s aphasia features severely reduced speech output and utterances are usually limited to four words or fewer. Other signs of Broca’s aphasia is a limited access to vocabulary and laborious formation of sound. The individual often maintains the ability to read and understand language, but writing and speaking abilities are strongly impacted.

Mixed, non-fluent Aphasia. Similar to Broca’s apahsia, only people with mixed aphasia see their ability to understand language compromised as well and often cannot read or write beyond an elementary level.

Wernicke’s or ‘fluent’ Aphasia. This is a form of aphasia where the main area of impairment is the ability to comprehend the meaning of spoken words. As a result, the individual maintains the ability to speak, albeit not at the previous level. Sentences do not always relate to one another, and certain word may appear where they do not belong. Reading and writing abilities are often affected.

Anomic Aphasia. This complicated form of aphasia is most commonly observed as an inability to produce the most significant words in a spoken sentence—relevant nouns and verbs—leaving the speaker grammatically fluent, but still unable to express their thoughts or questions. This particularly frustrating manifestation of the condition applies to written language as well, as the same difficulties are apparent in writing. Understanding of speech and reading abilities remain largely intact.

Primary, Progressive Aphasia. Unlike the previous forms of the condition we’ve covered, this version is unique in its progressive nature. Language capabilities become progressively impaired across the board—speaking, comprehending, reading, and writing.

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is caused by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and is the most commonly observed form of the disorder observed in patients with Alzheimer’s. In fact, struggles with speech and language sometimes present themselves as the first signs of Alzheimer’s—even before memory loss and other associated symptoms.

Statistics

Earlier we discussed the tendency to immediately associate aphasia with stroke. While other conditions and injuries can lead to the development of aphasia, we can’t underestimate the connection between aphasia and stroke, as up to 40 percent of stroke survivors can acquire aphasia.

With about two million Americans dealing with various symptoms of aphasia, the conditions is statistically more common than better-known conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy. According to the National Aphasia Association, another 180,000 Americans acquire the condition each year.

Recovery times are particularly challenging to quantify, but the general consensus seems to be that there is a finite amount of time after stroke in which a complete recovery is possible. Researchers differ on the precise period of time, but generally seem to agree that if symptoms of aphasia are still present three months after stroke, a complete recovery becomes unlikely.

People do continue to show slow, gradual improvement over months and even years, but at some point the focus turns to developing coping and compensatory strategies for communicating with patients.

SOURCE: National Aphasia Association

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Rob Senior
Rob Senior

Rob has 15 years of experience writing and editing for healthcare. He previously worked for ADVANCE from 2002 to 2012.

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