What is Aphasia?

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Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects a person’s ability to process and use language.

It is a neurological condition caused by damage to the portions of the brain responsible for language, and it does not affect intelligence. Because language plays such a central role in our daily lives, aphasia can be very challenging. Individuals with aphasia may find it difficult to speak, understand speech, and read and write.

The type and severity of aphasia depends on the precise location and extent of the damaged brain tissue. Aphasia can range from mild—where a task like retrieving the names of objects is difficult—to severe—where any type of communication is almost impossible.

Researchers, physicians, and speech-language pathologists have categorized aphasia into six different types.

Anomic Aphasia

Anomic aphasia is the least severe form. With it, individuals are often unable to supply the correct words for the things they want to talk about—objects, people, places, or events. It’s sometimes described as having a word on the tip of one’s tongue. He or she usually understands speech well and is able to read adequately, but writing ability may be poor.

Broca’s Aphasia

Broca’s aphasia is also referred to as nonfluent or expressive aphasia. This type of aphasia can be very frustrating, as a person with Broca’s aphasia knows what he or she wants to say, but is unable to accurately produce the correct word or sentence. Expressing language in the form of speech and writing will be severely reduced. The person may be limited to short “telegraphic” statements, with words like “is” or “the” left out. People who are diagnosed with severe Broca’s aphasia may benefit from an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device.

Mixed Nonfluent Aphasia

Mixed nonfluent aphasia resembles a severe form of Broca’s aphasia because the person’s speech is sparse and laborious. However, unlike Broca’s aphasia, a person with mixed nonfluent aphasia may also have limited understanding of speech and not be able to read or write beyond an elementary level.

Wernicke’s Aphasia

Persons diagnosed with Wernicke’s aphasia are unaware that the words they are producing are incorrect and nonsensical. He or she may have severe comprehension difficulties and be unable to grasp the meaning of spoken words, yet may be able to produce fluent and connected speech. Reading and writing are often severely impaired as well.

Global Aphasia

Global aphasia, as the name suggests, refers to widespread impairment. This is the most severe form of aphasia and usually occurs immediately after a stroke in patients who have experienced extensive damage to the brain’s language area. A person with global aphasia loses almost all language function and has great difficulty understanding as well as forming words and sentences. People who are suffering from global aphasia may only be able to produce a few recognizable words, understand little or no spoken speech, and be unable to read or write.

Primary Progressive Aphasia

Primary progressive aphasia is a rare degenerative brain and nervous system disorder that causes speaking and language skills to decline over time. A person becoming symptomatic with primary progressive aphasia may have trouble naming objects or may misuse word endings, verb tenses, conjunctions, and pronouns. Unlike actual aphasia, which is the result of brain damage, primary progressive aphasia is a progressive type of dementia.

Categorizing different subtypes of aphasia can be complicated.

Aphasia may be classified based on the location of the lesion or the patterns of language difficulties, each with varying degrees of influence on an individual’s language skills. It is important to keep in mind that a person’s initial presenting symptoms can change with recovery, and, therefore, the classification of the aphasia may change. Caregivers and loved ones facing an aphasia diagnosis should check with their speech-language pathologist or neurologist to confirm that the correct type of aphasia has been identified.

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