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What is Aphasia? - Definition & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Imagine not being able to talk, or write, or understand what someone else is saying. Scary, right? Well that's what some people endure if they have a problem called aphasia. Find out what this is, isn't, and how it may be treated.

What is Aphasia?

Our world has always run on communication, but even more so today. Imagine waking up one day and being unable to read what your friend texted you, write a letter, or scream for help. That's really depressing and scary, no? Well, unfortunately for some people this is a real problem.

It's called aphasia, a condition that is characterized by a person's inability, or great difficulty, communicating through verbal or written words. This includes speaking, reading, and writing. It even includes recognizing the name of something like a car or understanding what someone else just said.

What Aphasia Is and Isn't

What is language and communication? This isn't a sociology lesson so we won't get into this in detail, but from the medical perspective, language can be simplified to an ability to use one's lexicon in order to understand the meaning of words, when to use them properly, and how to put them together in a coherent fashion.

For most of us, this ability resides in the left side of the brain. This means that damage to this side of the brain from a stroke, head injury, brain tumor, infection (such as due to the herpes virus), or a disorder like Alzheimer's, can damage this side of the brain and lead to aphasia.

Consequently, aphasia is an acquired disorder of language, meaning you aren't born with it. So, victims of this disease were fine, but something damaged the brain and led to an inability to properly communication. Aphasia also excludes:

  • Disorders of communication stemming from thought disorders, like schizophrenia.
  • Disorders of communication stemming purely from motor disorders, meaning that the person cannot use the muscles and other structures involved in speech.
  • Developmental or learning speech and language disorders, like dyslexia.

Aphasia Treatment

To treat aphasia properly, the underlying cause of it must be identified so it can be treated properly, and any further damage can be stopped. So, if there is a bacterial infection in the brain that has led to this, then drugs that kill bacteria (antibiotics) need to be used. If there is a brain tumor that's tied to the damage, the tumor may need to be removed surgically or killed via radiation therapy.

In order to regain as much language function as possible, speech therapy should be started as soon as possible. Speech and language therapy are the most important treatment options for people who have aphasia, other than directly treating the cause of aphasia.

People may also need to learn how to use alternate ways to communicating if they cannot do so normally. For instance, they may need to learn sign language if they can no longer speak. Psychological support is sometimes very helpful, as many people may become depressed after losing their ability to communicate with the same fluidity they once possessed.

Medication that has been used largely on a currently experimental basis has shown some promise in treating aphasia, but more research needs to be performed to see if such medications are truly safe and effective.

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