What is aphasia?
Aphasia refers to a condition whereby an individual has difficulty communicating or understanding both verbal and written language. If you experience aphasia, you may also encounter troubles with reading and writing. Aphasia often results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. For most people, this refers to the left side of your brain.
Aphasia may occur along with other speech disorders, such as dysarthria, during which muscles used in speech are damaged, paralysed or weakened. Another speech disorder is apraxia of speech, whereby individuals have difficulty coordinating complex oral movements needed to enunciate words.
There are three types of aphasia – Wernicke’s (Receptive) Aphasia, Broca’s (Expressive) Aphasia, and Global Aphasia.
If you have Wernicke’s Aphasia, you will likely have difficulty understanding the meaning of words and sentences. When speaking, you may know what you want to say and be able to speak in long sentences. However, these sentences are usually nonsensical and consist of a random jumble of words and phrases. For example, an individual with Wernicke’s Aphasia may say something like, “A glass old lady is leaving on the relatedness of pink, subcultures, and manage.” In addition, reading and writing are usually severely impaired, and individuals with Wernicke’s Aphasia often do not realise that what they are saying does not make sense at all.
On the other hand, if you have Broca’s Aphasia, you will be able to understand what others are saying, yet find it difficult to select and say the right words in response. You will likely speak only in short sentences, omitting small words such as ‘is’ and ‘the’. For example, an individual with Broca’s Aphasia may say something like, “chair chair sit” instead of “Please take a sit on either one of those two chairs”. Individuals with Broca’s Aphasia are typically aware of their inability to form sentences, and can thus become overly anxious or easily frustrated.
Lastly, if you have Global Aphasia, you will be able to say and understand very few words, or even none at all. Global Aphasia is most commonly associated with stroke, and is the most severe form of aphasia. Reading and writing are usually completely hindered.
How will having aphasia affect me?
Social life. Although aphasia typically does not affect your intelligence, the inability to properly communicate with others may affect your day-to-day social interactions with others, thus potentially affecting your social life.
Mental health. In addition, research has shown how having aphasia may make you more prone to depression . This is because those with aphasia are usually unable to reap the full benefits of psychotherapy, one of the most effective treatments of depression and anxiety disorders which is based on the core idea of treating mental health problems by talking through problems with a mental health professional.
However, with speech therapy, as well as support from your family, friends and doctors, improvement and partial or full recovery from aphasia is entirely possible.
What does having aphasia feel like?
The main tell-tale sign of aphasia is the inability to understand or form coherent sentences. Furthermore, you may experience difficulties reading and writing. Some patients suffering from aphasia have also reported being unable to use numbers or do simple mental calculations.
What are the causes of aphasia?
Damage to different parts of the brain, as well as the extent of that damage, results in different types of aphasia.
Stroke. The most common cause for aphasia is stroke. In fact, research indicates that up to 20 percent of patients acquire some form of aphasia following a stroke . Therefore, risk factors of aphasia are similar to that of stroke. This includes age and family history of stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, obesity and heart disease.
Besides stroke, other potential causes of aphasia include head injuries and brain surgery, especially if the brain surgery takes place in the left side of the brain.
In some cases, aphasia that develops slowly over a period of time may be attributed to other medical conditions, such as:
- Brain tumours
- Neurological disorders (eg. dementia)
- Epileptic seizures
- Neuroinfections (eg. encephalitis)
How is aphasia diagnosed?
Medical examination When visiting a doctor, your doctor will most likely conduct a thorough medical examination and several tests before definitively diagnosing you with aphasia. Your doctor may ask you about your medical history, test your strength and reflexes, and listen to your heart and arteries in your neck.
Neuroimaging. In addition, your doctor may make use of neuroimaging, such as MRI and CT scans to locate and diagnose the cause of your aphasia. For example, your doctor may use an MRI scan to detect damaged brain tissue caused by a stroke which may have resulted in aphasia.
EEG. Lastly, your doctor may conduct an electroencephalography (EEG) to evaluate the electrical activity in the brain and detect the presence of seizures.
How do I prevent myself from getting aphasia?
The best way to reduce your risk of aphasia is to reduce your risk of stroke. This includes making hsimple, healthy lifestyle choices such as adopting a diet that is low in salt, fat and sugar and exercising regularly.
How can I manage my aphasia?
If you currency have aphasia, do not be disheartened as there are ways to manage it, namely speech and language therapy. Speech and language therapy aims to help restore as much as your speech as possible, increase your ability to communicate with others, and search for alternative ways to communicate with others. Your doctor will likely refer you to a speech and language therapist to do so.
If you think that you may be experiencing aphasia, visit a doctor and seek medical attention immediately.
- Morrison, M. (2016, August 1). I would tell you if I could: Language loss, depression, and the challenge of treating patients with aphasia.
- Dobkin, B. H. (2005). Rehabilitation after Stroke. New England Journal of Medicine, 352(16), 1677–1684. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejmcp043511
- Aphasia Follow-up: Prognosis, Patient Education. (2019). EMedicine. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1135944-followup