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What is Aphasia?

What is Aphasia

Aphasia is a neurological disorder that makes communicating through language extremely difficult. Sufferers have trouble speaking, reading, writing, and understanding what other people are saying. Some people with aphasia even have trouble with the comprehension of numbers. There are many horrible effects of this lack of communication. It can be a frustrating time for both the individual with aphasia, as well as their group of family and friends. It is important to remember that aphasia is a symptom and not a disease.

Fun fact: the word “aphasia” comes from the Ancient Greek word for “speechlessness.”

Signs of aphasia:

– Consistent repetition of words or phrases

– Inability to pronounce and form words, understand language, read, write, name objects and speak freely

– Excessive paraphrasing

– Incoherent speech

– Use of incomplete sentences

Severity of aphasia

Some cases of aphasia are extremely severe. They can be so severe that communication is practically impossible. Situations such as these are difficult, and thankfully, rare. Other cases are mild and can be overcome quite easily. Aphasia can affect one small aspect of language or all aspects of language and communication. It is more common for multiple aspects to be impaired, but not common for all aspects of language to be impaired.

What are the causes?

There are many causes of aphasia. The most common cause is stroke, but other neurological conditions have been linked to this disorder. These conditions include head injury, infection, tumor and Alzheimer’s disease. Any incident in which the communication areas of the brain are damaged can potentially cause aphasia.

Aphasia is associated with damage to the language areas of the brain, such as Wernicke’s are and Broca’s area. The language areas are typically in the left hemisphere, but on some rare occasions, they can occur in the right hemisphere of the brain.

What are the main types of aphasia?

There are many classifications of aphasia, and the different subtypes have caused experts to disagree greatly. The current classification system is still not entirely adequate, but the main types of aphasia are as follows: Expressive, Receptive, Anomic and Global.

– Expressive aphasia is the loss of language producing capabilities. A person suffering from expressive aphasia knows what they want to say but has difficulty saying it or writing it down. They may speak in short sentences, omitting many words. An example of this would be a person with expressive aphasia saying “go walk” instead of “I want to go for a walk.” The person knows what they want to express, but they don’t know how to express it eloquently. Expressive aphasia is also sometimes called “non-fluent” aphasia.

– Receptive aphasia is the inability to understand written and spoken language. A person suffering from receptive aphasia can speak normally, but has trouble understanding others and trouble with meaningful expression. They will likely speak in sentences that mean nothing, and may even create new words that have no meaning. Receptive aphasia is also sometimes called “fluent” aphasia.

– Anomic aphasia is the inability to remember names and words. A person suffering from anomic aphasia can speak properly but will have trouble remembering key phrases or appropriate words. It’s like having a word on the tip of your tongue all the time. Of all classifications of aphasia, anomic aphasia is the least severe. A person with anomic aphasia will speak in a way that makes sense, but it is typically riddled with empty and meaningless speech.

Global aphasia is a severe form of aphasia in which the patient is unable to read, write, speak or understand speech. Global aphasia is caused by extensive damage to the brain’s language areas. Some people with global aphasia can only use hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate with others. They are unable to produce many functional words and understand almost nothing that is said to them. This type of aphasia is devastating.

Is aphasia always an instant symptom, or can it take a while to progress?

Aphasia can, on some occasions, develop slowly. This is usually more common in cases caused by Alzheimer’s disease or by a brain tumor. Since the most common cause of aphasia is stroke, most cases of aphasia occur suddenly and can be shocking to both patients and their families.

Who can get aphasia?

Any person is susceptible of acquiring aphasia. Not even children are immune from this symptom, but the majority of people with aphasia are older. Women are affected by aphasia equally as often as men, as well as people of all nationalities.

How many people suffer from aphasia?

About a million people in the United States suffer from aphasia. That’s around 1 in 272 American people. The National Aphasia Association claims that about 80,000 people a year acquire aphasia after suffering a stroke.

What is the treatment process like?

Aphasia is treated with extensive language therapy that is adapted to the needs of each patient. Treatment usually involves a speech pathologist that will work with the patient in recovery. Some patients can recover language skills without treatment, and some patients go through years of treatment but never fully recover. It is best if patients begin treatment as soon as possible. There is no known “cure” for aphasia. In recent years, the incorporation of computers in the treatment of aphasia has gained popularity. Computers allow for more intense and effective treatment. Most stroke patients will recover from aphasia within a few months. Anything longer than a few months is worrisome, as the patient has little chance of ever fully recovering.

Communication based therapy

Communication issues can be a frustrating part of aphasia. Treatments that are communication based help the person to convey what they are trying to say via alternate means of communication. The person with aphasia is encouraged to use language to the best of their ability, but is also given the freedom to express themselves through other means.

Impairment based therapy

In impairment based therapy, the direct problem is tackled head on. The main goal of a person with aphasia is often to get back to normal speech and communication habits, so impairment based therapy is a popular method of therapy for aphasia patients. This kind of therapy helps the patient to speak as well as possible with minimal frustration. The downfall of this therapy is that many aphasia patients aren’t able to communicate fully when relying solely on verbal and written communication. Sometimes, exploring other means of communication can be a helpful part of treatment.

Is there any way to prevent aphasia?

There are precautions that can be taken to lower an individual’s risk of stroke, which in turn can lower the risk of aphasia. These include:

– Regular exercise

– Maintaining a healthy blood pressure

– Healthy eating

– Avoiding tobacco

– Minimal alcohol consumption

Does a person with aphasia still think in the same way?

Quite a few people with aphasia do indeed know what is going on in the world. They are capable of understanding things and often have the desire to be involved. They desire close relationships with other people but usually have trouble forming these bonds because of their inability to communicate with language. People with aphasia are still intelligent and productive human beings. Some people with aphasia may, however, need to change their lives in order to cope properly. Some become incapable of maintaining their jobs due to lack of communication skills.

What is deaf aphasia?

There is a type of aphasia associated with deaf individuals. Sign language is a type of communication that uses the areas of the brain that are also used in verbal communication. Since sign language is processed so similarly to verbal language in the brain, there have been instances of aphasia in deaf patients.

Aphasia and bullying

One unfortunate thing about the world is that a condition that makes a person different from others can often make them a target for bullying. Aphasia is no exception to this. Aphasia is an extremely isolating condition on its own, and torment from other people can make it even worse. Many people overcome aphasia, but the torment and frustration felt before and during treatment can stay with those individuals forever. There are even online communities where people who have suffered with aphasia can share their stories and connect with one another. Communities like these have proven to be helpful in the healing process. People write stories of their experiences with aphasia and there is a real sense of unity within these communities. It is amazing to see people with previous language impairments who can write so eloquently about their struggles with aphasia. It is one more glimmer of hope that a person with aphasia will one day overcome this communication barrier and be able to speak and write fluently. The best thing to do for a person with aphasia is to make sure they understand that you are there for them no matter what. Be patient and kind, and include them in as many situations as possible. The isolating nature of this condition can make life more difficult than it should be, but a group of understanding and compassionate people can make the biggest difference of all.

Disorders related to aphasia

There are many communication disorders that are closely or loosely related to aphasia. Patients can suffer from these disorders alone or with aphasia. Some of these disorders are confused to be aphasia when they are different disorders entirely. The treatment of each disorder differs, so it is extremely important to determine if a patient truly has aphasia, or instead has a similar disorder.

Dementia – a condition which many aspects of cognitive function are impaired. These include intellect, personality and memory. Dementia is actually a broad category of neurological diseases. Language impairment is common, but is usually seen as less important than the intellectual loss seen in most dementia patients.

Apraxia – the collective term for the impairment of movements. A person with apraxia is incapable of performing common gestures such as hand shaking or waving when requested to do so. Apraxia isn’t usually too much of a complaint because it involves copying movements or creating meaningful movements upon request, so it can be hidden away by other issues.

Dysarthria – a group of a few speech disorders that result from slowness or weakness. They involve a speech production disorder and not a language disorder.

Coping with aphasia

It can be difficult for the family and friends of an aphasia patient to fully understand what their loved one is going through. The changes associated with this disorder are most often sudden and entirely unexpected. It can be a frustrating and scary time for the person with aphasia, as well as for their loved ones. Adjustment is seldom easy, and the condition can bring a sense of hopelessness and dread. There are obvious communication obstacles, but there are still ways to cope with this condition. Often times, the person with aphasia can still communicate on some level.

– It is important to be patient and avoid interrupting a person with aphasia. Family members should remember to select an environment free of external noise or distractions.

– They should speak with slow, concise sentences, and ask questions that can be answered with yes or no.

– They should avoid correcting the person when it comes to verbal and written speech.

– Sometimes, pictures or props can make communication easier. Even using symbols like thumbs up or thumbs down can make a big difference in communicating with a person who has aphasia.

– Writing down keywords is sometimes effective in bringing clarity to a sentence.

– Tools such as a tablet or computer can also be effective. Family members often need to be creative in achieving effective communication with a person with aphasia.

– It can be helpful to repeat back what the person is saying, or to repeat back what you think they are saying.

– Family members should remember to maintain appropriate expectations for the recovery of the person with aphasia.

– It’s also important to involve the person when making decisions. Families should avoid making many big changes during the early treatment process of aphasia.

– Additional counseling should be sought out as necessary.

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