Veterans Day is coming up and we tip our hats to those that have served. For Veterans living with communications disorders like aphasia, communicating can be frustrating. Some say aphasia feels like they are “trapped inside themselves” – able to think perfectly clearly but not able to express those thoughts in writing or speech. Aphasia is most often the result of damage to brain tissue as a result of stroke or brain injury. More than two million people in the U.S. are currently affected by aphasia according to the National Aphasia Association, but few outside the clinical world, and those living with it, know what it is.
There is hope for improvement if you or a loved one is living with aphasia, and in this post, we’ll explain the treatment available to veterans – often through a local VA.
Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder in which there is loss or impairment of the ability to use or comprehend words. It results from damage to the areas of the brain that control language. It affects different aspects of language including speaking, listening, writing, and/or reading. It does not affect intelligence. Aphasia is one of the most common conditions caused by brain injury (including stroke and aneurysm). So, for example, an active-duty soldier who suffers a traumatic brain injury to that part of the brain that controls language may end up with aphasia. Or, an older veteran, no longer on active duty, may suffer a stroke that impacts the language areas of the brain.
Aphasia affects different brain systems – it does not always affect comprehension and it does not always affect reading or writing – it can be very isolated in terms of what language systems it impacts. Everyone is different; depending on what part of the brain was injured.
There are different kinds of aphasia – you may have heard your doctor or clinician talk about Global Aphasia or Broca’s Aphasia or Wernicke’s Aphasia – this post goes into more depth about each type of aphasia and is a good resource to learn more about how each type manifests slightly differently.
Aphasia is more prevalent than Parkinson’s, ALS, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy. In fact, given its prevalence, most of us have encountered someone with aphasia but just don’t know it by name. Aphasia has gained a little more visibility in recent years as national media have profiled veterans with traumatic brain injury.
Aphasia affects an individual’s daily life in many ways – just think of what you’re doing right now – you’re reading this blog post or listening to someone read it to you. If your language is affected, you might not be able to read this blog, a newspaper, or even signs on the street. You might not understand a friend on the phone when they call you. You might be in a meeting or family get-together and just cannot come up with any of the words you need to express your thoughts.
Aphasia presents on a spectrum – it can be somewhat mild (for example, constantly feeling like “the word is on the tip of my tongue”), or it can be very severe (for example, feeling like being in a place where you don’t speak the language).
According to Constant Therapy’s on-staff clinician and Vice President of Clinical Operations & Development, Jordyn Sims-Pierce, CCC-SLP, ATP, MBA, “it’s important for anyone presenting with symptoms of aphasia to undergo a speech language evaluation as soon as possible. Research has shown that language and communication abilities can continue to improve for many years when treated with the right evidence-based therapy.”
Aphasia is treatable with speech-language therapy. The goal of this kind of therapy is to:
How your aphasia therapy is carried out depends on your circumstances. For example, intensive speech therapy may be recommended for some people, involving a number of sessions given in a shorter period of time. For others, shorter and less intensive sessions may be recommended. Therapy may be in individual sessions, in groups, or at home using digital apps.
Constant Therapy is one such digital app that allows patients to engage in regular speech and language practice with their clinician, or later at home on their phone or other mobile device. The program adapts and changes with performance, so users continue to practice varied exercises at the right challenge level.
Research studies using Constant Therapy have shown that key outcomes for patients who practice at home include:
Many VA clinics around the country treat veterans for aphasia using tools like Constant Therapy. If you are a veteran or a clinician working with vets, contact us to get started with Constant Therapy at your VA clinic.