Aphasia

Aphasia is a disorder that makes it difficult for you to read, write, and speak. It occurs when the part of the brain that controls language is damaged, frequently as a result of a stroke or head injury. Other causes include brain tumors, infections, and degenerative diseases.

Symptoms & Types of Aphasia

A variety of symptoms are associated with aphasia, depending on the extent of brain damage as well as the area affected. You may speak in short or incomplete sentences, use words or sentences that don’t make sense, have trouble understanding what other people are saying, write sentences that don’t make sense, and interpret figurative language literally.

There are three main types of aphasia:

  • Expressive or nonfluent aphasia: you know what you want to say but have trouble saying it, struggling to get words out or speaking in short, incomplete sentences. You may comprehend what others are saying to some degree. You are often aware of your own communication difficulties and become frustrated.
  • Receptive or fluent aphasia: you hear the voice or see the print, but can’t decipher the meaning of the words. You may speak fluently, but your sentences may be rambling and nonsensical. You usually can’t comprehend spoken language, and may not realize that other people can’t understand what you’re saying.
  • Global aphasia: you can’t speak, comprehend speech, read, or write.

Damage to the left side of the brain causes aphasia in most right-handed people, and about half of those who are left-handed. When the right side of the brain is damaged, additional problems may occur.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Following a CT scan or MRI, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) will evaluate you to determine the type and severity of aphasia through a series of tests measuring your ability to communicate. They will assess your speech, comprehension, expression, social communication, reading, and writing. You may be asked to name common objects, repeat words and sentences, follow instructions, tell a story or explain a joke, read and write words and sentences, and engage in conversation.

The mildest forms of aphasia might not require treatment, as language skills often return on their own. Most individuals will need speech and language therapy to rehabilitate their communication skills. The process is long, and few people are able to fully regain their pre-injury abilities.

Currently, tests are underway for medications to treat aphasia. While some drugs look promising, additional research is needed before they become commonplace.