Aphasia

What is an Aphasia

Aphasia is damage to the part of your brain that you need to communicate. For most people, that area is on the left side of the brain.

Aphasia does not affect your intelligence, but you may struggle to talk, understand speech, read, or write. Aphasia can happen to anyone at any age, but it is most common in older age.

What are the causes?

An interruption of blood supply to the brain (stroke) is the most common cause of aphasia. Any disease or disorder that damages the communication areas of the brain can cause aphasia. This includes:

  • Brain tumors.
  • Brain injuries.
  • Brain infections.
  • Progressive diseases of the nervous system (neurological disorders).

What increases the risk?

You may be at risk for aphasia if you have had any trauma, disease, or disorder that damaged the communication areas of the brain.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Aphasia may start suddenly if it is caused by a stroke or brain injury. Aphasia caused by a tumor or a progressive neurological disorder may start gradually. The condition affects people differently. Signs and symptoms of aphasia include:

  • Trouble finding the right word.
  • Using the wrong words.
  • Talking in sentences that do not make sense.
  • Making up words.
  • Being unable to understand other people’s speech.
  • Having problems writing, spelling, or reading.
  • Having trouble with numbers.
  • Having trouble swallowing.

How is this diagnosed?

Your health care provider may suspect you have aphasia if you lose the ability to speak or understand language. You may need to see a specialist (speech and language pathologist) to help determine the diagnosis of aphasia. This person may do a series of tests to check your ability to:

  • Speak.
  • Express ideas.
  • Make conversation.
  • Understand speech.
  • Read and write.

How is this treated?

In some cases, aphasia may improve on its own over time. Treatment for aphasia usually involves therapy with a pathologist. Your treatment will be designed to meet your needs and abilities. Common treatments include:

  • Speech therapy.
  • Learning other ways to communicate.
  • Working with family members to find the best ways to communicate.
  • Working with an occupational therapist to find ways to communicate at work.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Keep all follow-up appointments.
  • Make sure you have a good support system at home.
  • The following techniques may be helpful while communicating:
    • Use short, simple sentences. Ask family members to do the same. Sentences that require one-word answers are easiest.
    • Avoid distractions like background noise when trying to listen or talk.
    • Try communicating with gestures, pointing, or drawing.
    • Talk slowly. Ask family members to talk to you slowly.
    • Maintain eye contact when communicating.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your symptoms change or get worse.
  • You need more support at home.
  • You are struggling with anxiety or depression.
  • You develop trouble swallowing.
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