Aphasia is a language disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. For most people, these are parts of the left side (hemisphere) of the brain. Aphasia usually occurs suddenly, often as the result of a stroke or head injury, but it may also develop slowly, as in the case of a brain tumor. The disorder impairs the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Aphasia may co-occur with speech disorders such as dysarthria or apraxia of speech, which also result from brain damage.
Some people with aphasia have trouble using words and sentences (expressive aphasia). Some have problems understanding others (receptive aphasia). Others with aphasia struggle with both using words and understanding (global aphasia).
Aphasia is a total or partial loss of the ability to speak correctly or to understand or comprehend what is being said. It may be caused by brain injury or disease. It’s most often caused by a stroke that injures the brain’s language center, located on the left side of the brain in most people. Some people with aphasia recover quickly and completely after a stroke. Others may have permanent speech and language problems.
Causes of Aphasia
The most common cause of aphasia is brain damage resulting from a stroke — the blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. This disruption of the blood supply leads to brain cell death or damage in areas of the brain controlling language. Aphasia may also be caused by a severe head injury, a brain tumor or an infection.
Aphasia is caused by damage to one or more of the language areas of the brain. Many times, the cause of the brain injury is a stroke. A stroke occurs when, for some reason, blood is unable to reach a part of the brain. Brain cells die when they do not receive their normal supply of blood, which carries oxygen and important nutrients. Other causes of brain injury are severe blows to the head, brain tumors, brain infections, and other conditions of the brain.
Treatment for Aphasia
Starts early: Therapy is most effective when it begins soon after the brain injury.
Builds on success: The speech-language pathologist uses exercises to improve and practice communication skills. These may begin with simpler tasks such as naming objects and evolve into more complex exercises of explaining the purpose of an object.
Group therapy offers the opportunity to use new communication skills in a comfortable setting. Stroke clubs, which are regional support groups formed by individuals who have had a stroke, are available in most major cities. These clubs also offer the opportunity for individuals with aphasia to try new communication skills. In addition, stroke clubs can help the individual and his or her family adjust to the life changes that accompany stroke and aphasia.
Language therapy should begin as soon as possible and be tailored to the individual needs of the patient. Rehabilitation with a speech pathologist involves extensive exercises in which patients read, write, follow directions, and repeat what they hear. Computer-aided therapy may supplement standard language therapy.
The Timing of Therapy is Critical: Some people with aphasia completely recover without treatment. In most cases, however, therapy should begin as soon as possible after the injury and be tailored to the specific needs of the patient. Rehabilitation with a speech-language pathologist involves extensive exercises in which patients read, write, follow directions, and repeat what they hear.