Many people have problems speaking and understanding speech following a stroke. This difficulty with communication is called aphasia. It usually comes on suddenly as a result of a stroke or head injury, but brain tumors and infections of the brain can gradually cause language problems.
Aphasia affects one in every 250 people, and about one million Americans currently have aphasia.
Aphasia occurs when the language centers on the left side of the brain are affected by a stroke, head injury or brain tumor. Depending on the exact nature of the injury, the symptoms of aphasia can vary. There are three main categories of aphasia:
- Nonfluent aphasia occurs when the injury is near the left front of the brain. With nonfluent aphasia, a person has problems getting words out and generally speaks in very short sentences. The person also may leave words out, so sentences become short and choppy like “Want food” or “Walk store.” With this type of aphasia the person listening usually understands the meaning. A person with nonfluent aphasia may understand what is being said to them, but they know they are having problems speaking and may get frustrated.
- Fluent aphasia results from damage to the middle part of the language center of the brain. A person with fluent aphasia uses long, complex sentences that don’t make sense. They also may use words that don’t make sense or are incorrectly used. The person generally doesn’t understand what’s being said and may not be aware of their problems speaking.
- Global aphasia is caused by extensive damage to the brain’s language center. The person with global aphasia has severe problems speaking and understanding language.
Treatment of Aphasia
Recovery from aphasia depends on the severity of the damage to the brain and on how quickly treatment is begun. The recovery process is slow, and few people completely regain their language skills. Early treatment is important.
Treatment for aphasia involves working with a speech-language pathologist who will help the person relearn language skills. The speech-language pathologist begins with simple tasks such as naming objects and gradually building to more complex language skills. In some cases, the person may need to learn ways to make up for the loss of his or her language skills by using gestures or drawings.
If you know someone who has aphasia, here are some ways you can help:
- Use simple sentence and speak more slowly.
- Don’t finish sentences, correct errors or speak for the person.
- Only talk about one thing at a time.
- Reduce distractions by turning off the television, radio or moving to a quiet place.
- Write down key words or a short sentence to help explain something.
- Use a book of words, pictures or photos to help with conversations.
- Use drawings or gestures to help get your meaning across.
- Include the person in conversations when possible.
- Make sure you have the person’s attention before talking.
Support groups may be helpful for the person with aphasia and for family members. For more information, call 1-800-984-3434.