What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is an acquired language disorder resulting from a stroke or brain injury. It affects a person’s ability to process, use, and/or understand language. Aphasia does not affect intelligence.

Aphasia can affect all forms of language – speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Aphasia can cause frustration and stress for an individual living with it, as well as for his or her caregiver. An aphasia diagnosis is unplanned, unexpected, and frustrating, but it’s not hopeless.

There are many types of aphasia, and characteristics vary depending on the location and degree of damage to the brain. The greater the severity of the aphasia, the more limited the speech and language skills.

What Is the Incidence of Aphasia?

If you or someone you know has aphasia, you’re not alone!

Most people have never heard of aphasia. Unless you or a loved one is impacted by aphasia, you’re not likely to know much about it. So, it might surprise you to learn that aphasia is actually a relatively common condition. Approximately 2 million people in the United States have aphasia, though estimates vary. Approximately 180,000 people are diagnosed with aphasia every year. About 1/3 of people who have strokes get aphasia.

Aphasia affects more people than many other conditions that you probably have heard of, such as Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) and cerebral palsy. However, according to a 2016 survey, 85% of people had never even heard the term “aphasia.”

Diagnosing Aphasia

Aphasia can be diagnosed by your doctor or a speech-language pathologist (SLP). An SLP can do speech and language testing based on your symptoms. However, only a doctor can do medical testing to determine the underlying cause.

If you’ve had a stroke or brain injury, a brain scan may determine the location and severity of the injury. The brain scan will show if damage has occurred in the language centers of the brain. This information, combined with your symptoms, will allow a doctor to diagnose aphasia.

Immediately after a stroke, your medical team will be most concerned about making sure you are medically stable and physically able to be discharged. You might not receive very much information about aphasia right after your stroke. However, you should receive a referral to a speech-language pathologist (SLP). If you believe you have aphasia but did not receive a referral to an SLP, ask your doctor if you can see one.

The SLP will conduct speech and language testing and give you more information about what type of aphasia you have. The SLP will test the different areas of language: speaking, understanding, reading and writing. The SLP will be able to determine what your strengths and weaknesses are. This information helps the SLP choose therapy techniques to help you improve.

If you don’t think you have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury but experience symptoms that sound like aphasia, you should tell your doctor. Your doctor can order medical tests and also refer you to an SLP. Your family doctor, might refer you to a neurologist for more specialized care. Medical tests can confirm the diagnosis and provide additional information. There are other medical conditions that can lead to symptoms similar to those of aphasia, so determining the underlying cause is important.

Can Aphasia Be Prevented?

If you have aphasia, you might be wondering if you could have done something to prevent it. There is no effective way to prevent aphasia. Aphasia is most often the result of a stroke or another brain injury.

Although there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of having a stroke (or another stroke, if you’ve already had one), there is no 100% effective way to prevent a stroke.

Some people have strokes due to reasons that are out of their control and could not have been prevented. Aphasia as the result of a stroke or brain injury cannot be prevented – it just depends on where in the brain the stroke or injury occurred.

Somewhere between 25-40% of people who have a stroke will experience aphasia following the stroke. However, the people who have strokes but do not have aphasia did not do anything differently to prevent aphasia. They simply experienced a stroke in a different part of their brain. People with aphasia most often have damage to the left side of the brain, where the brain’s language centers are for most people.

If you’d like information on reducing your risk of stroke, ask your doctor for personalized recommendations. Your doctor can talk to you about your medical history and lifestyle factors.

Common Recommendations to Prevent Stroke and Aphasia

  • Exercise, according to your doctor’s recommendations
  • Eat healthy, including cutting back on sodium (salt)
  • If you smoke, quit
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Additionally, be sure to monitor your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels. Make sure they are in a normal range and if not, ask your doctor how to lower them.

What are the symptoms of aphasia?

These Are the Symptoms of Mild To Severe Aphasia

Mild aphasia:

  • Individuals may have trouble understanding long messages
  • Individuals may need a little extra time to understand and respond to spoken messages
  • Individuals may have difficulty finding words to express or explain an idea
  • Individuals may put words in the wrong order, or substitute the wrong word/part of a word when talking. For example, he or she may call a “table” a “cup”
  • Individuals may have difficulty responding to questions on the spot

Severe aphasia:

  • Individuals may have trouble understanding spoken messages
  • Individuals may be unreliable in responding to “yes and no” questions
  • Individuals may not be aware of their own errors
  • Individuals may use a combination of words and jargon that is not understood by others
  • Individuals may have little or no speech

Can You Recover From Aphasia?

If you’ve been diagnosed with aphasia, one of your first questions is probably, “Will I get better?” The answer is that recovery from aphasia is possible!

Every person is different. Some people will have a complete recovery. Some people mostly recover, but still find it hard to think of the right word sometimes. Others will always have aphasia but can continue to improve. The good news is that people can continue getting better for years after they get aphasia.

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