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What is Aphasia? - Definition, Types & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Aphasia is the term for collective types of speech disorders that occur when parts of the brain are damaged. Learn about different types and treatment options in this lesson.

What is Aphasia?

When a person develops a speech impairment following a brain injury (but had no speech problems beforehand), this disorder is called aphasia. Damage usually occurs in the left half of the brain, which is the side responsible for speech, and is often due to stroke (though blunt trauma and brain diseases may cause similar symptoms).

Common symptoms of aphasia include difficulty reading, speaking, listening, and writing; however, there is no underlying change in a person's intelligence, making this a frustrating condition. Approximately one million people in the United States experience some form of aphasia.

Types of Aphasia

Symptoms vary based on what part of the brain experienced damage. For example, when the frontal lobe is harmed, speech becomes difficult and hard to follow. However, that person will still comprehend what other people are saying fairly well. In contrast, if damage was done to the back of the brain, speech delivery will be normal, but words may be mixed up or incorrectly used during delivery. Specifically, those who have trouble speaking may struggle grasping the words they want to use, misuse words, switch sounds around, make up their own words, or just have trouble putting words into the proper order within sentences.

Others may have difficulty comprehending words that are said to them. They may struggle to understand a conversation, especially if the other person is speaking quickly, and they may not pick up on subtleties in conversation (like sarcasm or humor). Finally, others may have problems reading materials, writing their thoughts down, or keeping track of numbers. And remember - the person's intelligence is the same as before the injury or illness that caused the brain damage. Imagine the frustration of knowing what you want to say and not being able to say it!

The symptoms of aphasia vary based on which region of the brain experienced damage.

Treatment Options for Aphasia

Choosing a treatment option depends on what type of aphasia the patient suffers from. Specialists called speech-language pathologists work with patients to target the problems they experience. When the problem can't be fixed, the speech-language pathologist may also work with patients to develop new coping techniques to learn to deal with the problem. If they can find a way to mitigate the effect the disorder has on daily life, it may be okay that the problem can't be completed fixed.

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