Aphasia is one of the most significant and common conditions caused by stroke or brain injury. Read on to learn more about what aphasia is, its causes, who it affects, and the ways it can be treated.
1. Definition of Aphasia: Loss of Language, NOT Intellect
- Aphasia is the loss or impairment of the ability to use or comprehend words, usually resulting from brain damage.
- IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY: Aphasia is strictly related to language, including speaking, listening comprehension, writing, and/or reading. It does not affect intelligence. Just because someone has aphasia does not mean that they are any less intelligence than they were before, or than anyone else.
2. Aphasia’s Impact on Daily Living
- Aphasia affects an individual’s daily life in many, 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 post, a newspaper, or even signs on the street. You might not understand your son or daughter or mother or sister on the phone when they call for their weekly check in. You might be in a meeting and absolutely cannot come up with any of the words you need.
- Aphasia presents on a spectrum – it can be somewhat mild (think constantly feeling like “the word is on the tip of my tongue”), or it can be very severe (feeling like being in a country where you don’t speak the language).
- Aphasia affects different systems – e.g., 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.
3. Who is Impacted by Aphasia
- Over 1 million people in the United States are currently affected by Aphasia according to the National Aphasia Association. Nearly 180,000 Americans acquire the disorder each year.
- Aphasia affects people of all ages, races, nationality and gender.
- More than 800,000 people/year have a stroke in the United States, and an estimated 1.7 million experience brain injury, both of which are common causes of Aphasia.
- Between 21-38% of patients presenting with acute stroke are also diagnosed with Aphasia.
4. Aphasia Causes
- Anything that damages the language centers of the brain can cause Aphasia, including:
- Stroke: occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, which prevents blood supply to any areas of the brain supplied by that vessel.
- Brain injury: any event where the brain is hit and damaged by trauma, or damaged by disease, such as brain tumors or encephalitis.
- Hemorrhage: when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain. Oddly, blood is poisonous to the brain, so if any parts of the brain are exposed to blood during a hemorrhage, those parts of the brain will be damaged.
5. Aphasia Treatment
- Many treatment options are available, often through speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and occupational therapists (OTs) in clinics, rehab centers, skilled nursing facilities, or the Veteran’s Association (to name a few places). These treatments seek to help those with Aphasia to reclaim their lives, and to return to work when possible.
- Treatment could be some or all of these activities:
- Working one-on-one with an SLP or OT on conversation skills or daily living skills.
- Practicing reading the newspaper and explaining the main messages to a clinician or family member.
- Working on an app to perform tasks that will help the brain to find words more easily again.
- A weekly book club or video conference to practice conversation skills and understanding spoken language.
- Participating in research studies to help scientists discover the most effective ways to create individualized treatment programs for aphasia.
- IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY: There is no end to recovery. The myth that individuals only have one year to recover after a stroke and after that there is no more improvement, has been proven by science to be false on every level. Patients can continue to improve, with the right therapy, for the rest of their lives.
Some of the best resources for learning more about aphasia can be found at: