Today, over one million people in the United States have aphasia. With a startling number of Americans having little to no knowledge of this condition, the time is now to pave the way for a better understanding of the causes, symptoms, and treatments of aphasia.
1. What is Aphasia?
- A communication disorder that results from damage or injury to language parts of the brain.
- More common among older adults.
- Although aphasia gets in the way of a person’s ability to use or understand words, it does not hinder the person’s intelligence.
- People who have aphasia may have difficulty speaking and finding the "right" words to complete their thoughts.
- Creates problems understanding conversation, reading and comprehending written words, writing words, and using numbers.
2. Causes of Aphasia
Anything that impairs the language centers of the brain can cause Aphasia, including:
- Hemorrhage: when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain. Oddly, blood is poisonous to the brain, so if any parts of the brain are exposed to blood during a hemorrhage, those parts of the brain will be damaged.
- Stroke: occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, which prevents blood supply to any areas of the brain supplied by that vessel.
- Brain injury: any event where the brain is hit and damaged by trauma, or damaged by disease, such as brain tumors.
3. Who Is Impacted by Aphasia?
- Over 1 million people in the United States are currently affected by Aphasia according to the National Aphasia Association.
- Nearly 180,000 Americans acquire the disorder each year.
- More than 800,000 people/year have a stroke in the United States
- An estimated 1.7 million experience brain injury, both of which are common causes of Aphasia.
Language is much more than words. It involves our ability to recognize and use words and sentences. Much of this capability resides in the left hemisphere of the brain. When a person has a stroke or other injury that affects the left side of the brain, it typically disrupts their ability to use language.
Through language we are able to:
- Communicate our inner thoughts, desires, intentionsand motivations
- Understand what others say to us
- Ask questions
- Give commands
- Comment and interchange
5. Aphasia Does Not Affect Intelligence
Although language is impacted, stroke survivors remain mentally alert. Even though their speech may be jumbled, fragmented or nearly impossible to understand.
6. Treatment: Speech and Language Rehabilitation
Recovery of language skills is usually a relatively slow process. Although most people make significant progress, few people regain full pre-injury communication levels.
For aphasia, speech and language therapy tries to improve the person's ability to communicate by restoring as much language as possible, teaching how to compensate for lost language skills and finding other
methods of communicating.
- Starts early on- some studies have found that therapy is most effective when it begins soon after the brain injury.
- Often works in groups- in a group setting, people with aphasia can try out their communication skills in a safe environment. Participants can practice initiating conversations, speaking in turn, clarifying misunderstandings and fixing conversations that have completely broken down.
7. Support of Family & Friends
- Try using the following tips when communicating with your loved one with aphasia:
- Simplify your sentences and slow your pace.
- Keep conversations one-on-one initially.
- Allow the person time to talk.
- Don't finish sentences or correct errors.
- Reduce distracting noise in the environment.
- Keep paper and pencils or pens available.
- Write a key word or a short sentence to help explain something.
- Help the person with aphasia create a book of words, pictures and photos to assist with conversations.
- Use drawings or gestures when you aren't understood.
- Involve the person with aphasia in conversations as
- much as possible.
- Check for comprehension or summarize what you've discussed.