Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences
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!
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.
Success rates of different treatment types vary from person to person based on the type of injury/illness and therapy used. If you know someone with aphasia, there are a few tips you can follow to ease communication. First, make sure you have the person's attention before you begin talking to them. Speak slowly and enunciate your words. Watch their body language as you're talking and try to minimize background noise. Do not talk down to them, but keep your words simple and try to phrase questions so that a simple 'yes' or 'no' will suffice. Downplay any errors and try to keep things as normal as possible - if they begin to feel self-conscious about their speech, they may stop trying to communicate.
Aphasia is a disorder affecting speech and language skills and is caused by damage to the brain, either by injury or illness. There are a variety of types of aphasia, which can have symptoms ranging from difficulty speaking, difficulty writing and reading, or difficulty comprehending speech. The symptoms that present themselves will vary based on which part of the brain was affected. Various treatment options exist, though most are carried out under the care of a speech-language pathologist and will be tailored to each individual's needs and condition. If you find yourself speaking with someone who has aphasia, keep your words simple, minimize distractions, speak slowly, and be patient. Imagine how frustrating it is to have difficulties expressing yourself when your mind knows what it wants to say, but there is a disconnect between thinking and actually saying it!
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