What Is Aphasia?
Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects the brain’s
ability to use and understand language. Aphasia can interfere with your use of
verbal and/or written communication. Aphasia can also cause problems with your
ability to read, write, speak, and/or listen.
About one million Americans have some form of aphasia (National Aphasia Association).
Types of Aphasia
There are three major types of aphasia: fluent, nonfluent, and
Patients with fluent aphasia, also called Wernicke’s aphasia, typically:
damage to the middle left side of the brain
unable to understand and use language correctly
to speak in long, complex sentences
to use incorrect or nonsense words
unable to realize that others don’t understand them
Patients with nonfluent aphasia, also called Broca’s aphasia, typically:
- have damage to the left frontal area of the brain
- speak in short, incomplete sentences
- are able to speak basic messages, though missing some words
- have a limited ability to understand what others say
- experience frustration because they realize they can’t be
- have weakness or paralysis on the right side of the body
Patients with global aphasia typically:
- have major damage to the front and back of the left side of the
- have severe problems using words
- have severe problems understanding words
- have limited ability to use a few words together
What Causes Aphasia?
Aphasia is caused by damage to one or more areas of the
brain that control language. When damage occurs, the blood supply to these
areas can be interrupted. Without oxygen and nutrients from the blood supply,
the cells in these parts of the brain die.
Aphasia can be caused by a brain tumor, an infection, dementia, a neurological
disorder, or a degenerative disease. It can also occur suddenly from a head
injury or a stroke. Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia (National Aphasia
Seizures or migraines can cause temporary aphasia. Temporary
aphasia can also be caused by a transient
ischemic attack (TIA), which temporarily interrupts blood flow to the
brain. It can also be triggered by a mini-stroke.
Who Is at Risk for Aphasia?
Aphasia affects people of all ages, including children. Since strokes
are the most common cause of aphasia, the majority of people with this
condition are middle-aged or older. The condition occurs in 25 to 40 percent of
stroke survivors (National Aphasia
What Are the Symptoms of Aphasia?
Symptoms of aphasia vary from mild to severe. The effects of
aphasia depend on the areas of the brain that are damaged and the severity of
Aphasia affects both spoken and written communication. It can
hinder speaking, comprehension, reading, and writing. It can affect both
expressive and receptive communication.
Expressive symptoms are problems using words and sentences.
These symptoms can include:
in short, incomplete sentences or phrases
in sentences that can’t be understood
wrong words or nonsense words
words in the wrong order
Receptive symptoms are problems understanding the words of
others. These symptoms can include:
understanding other people’s speech
following fast-paced speech
If a physician suspects that a patient has aphasia, imaging
tests can help find the source of the problems. A computerized tomography (CT)
scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help identify the location and
severity of brain damage.
A physician may screen for aphasia during treatment for a brain
injury or stroke. This may test a patient’s ability to:
In cases of aphasia, a speech-language pathologist can
identify specific communication disabilities. An examination will test the
patient’s ability to:
verbal and written language
socially with others
alternative forms of communication
Treatment for aphasia involves speech-language therapy. Typically,
therapy proceeds slowly and gradually. It should start as early as possible
after a brain injury. A treatment plan can include:
to improve and practice skills
to use other forms of communication, such as gestures, drawings, and computers
in groups to practice communication skills
skills in real-life situations
computers for relearning word sounds and verbs
family involvement so patients can communicate at home
Patients with temporary aphasia caused by a TIA or migraine
may not need treatment to recover completely. Most patients with aphasia
recover some language abilities up to a month after a brain injury. However, a
return to full communication ability is not typical.
Several factors can determine how much improvement is
possible. The cause, location, and severity of brain damage affect the chance
for recovery. The patient’s age and health also can be factors. Other
considerations such as a patient’s motivation can impact the prognosis.
Aphasia is caused by many conditions that can’t be prevented,
such as brain tumors or degenerative diseases. But the most common cause of
aphasia is a stroke. By reducing your risk of stroke, you can lower your risk
of developing aphasia.
The National Stroke Association recommends the following
precautions to reduce the risk of stroke (National Stroke Association):
your blood pressure
atrial fibrillation (AF), which can cause blood to form clots
a diet that is low in sodium and fat
immediate help if you have any symptoms of a stroke