Understanding Aphasia

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a communication disorder that is the result of injury to the brain from stroke, tumor, or other illnesses. Individuals with aphasia have difficulty using language to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Their intellect and memory generally remain intact, while their ability to verbalize or write are compromised.

Here is a great video from TedEx that explains aphasia.

Why can some individuals talk, while others can’t?

Aphasia impacts each individually differently, depending on where and how the brain was injured, what their communication skills were like prior to the aphasia, and the presence of any speech problem in addition to aphasia.

How can I best try to communicate with someone with aphasia?

Here is a 3-minute video created by Laura Cobb, a person with aphasia, giving four helpful tips for communicating with her and others like her.

You can also read these suggestions for communicating with a person with aphasia, by Maura Silverman, executive director and founder of the Triangle Aphasia Project Unlimited.

Finally, here is a short YouTube video interview with Maura describing how to communicate with people with aphasia.

What kind of speech difficulties can co-exist with aphasia?

There are two primary types of speech problems that can occur with or without the language impairment of aphasia. They are dysarthria and apraxia.

Dysarthria is a speech disorder caused by weakness or incoordination of the muscles that control speech (i.e., breathing, voice, and articulation). A person with dysarthria could have slurred speech or a weak, breathy quality.

Apraxia is a motor planning deficit that affects a person’s ability to say sounds that they intend to. A mix up in the signal from the brain to the mouth can make the sound be distorted, absent, or replaced by another sound. A person with apraxia may appear to grope for the correct position for sounds and can often verbalize automatic speech (counting, singing, prayers, etc.) with ease.

How common is aphasia?

This frustrating impairment affects more than one million Americans. That is more than the number of individuals who suffer from Parkinson’s disease or muscular dystrophy. In addition, there are many individuals who have aphasia as part of another neurological condition, and may be unaware of the term “aphasia” and its implications.

Can a person with aphasia be cured?

There is, unfortunately, no cure for aphasia. However, some individuals regain a great deal of their language skills, and complete resolution of aphasia is common when the medical reason for their aphasia was slight swelling in the brain, infection, or a small stroke (transient ischemic attack). Most individuals who have aphasia deal with some level of language difficulty (reading, writing, speech/word finding, or comprehension) long after the initial injury. As a chronic condition, it is important to battle aphasia as it impacts an individual’s life, now and into the future.

How is aphasia treated?

When an individual is diagnosed with aphasia, it is common for them to be referred to a speech pathologist or speech therapist. The speech pathologist will complete a thorough assessment of the individual’s communicative strengths and weaknesses and, in coordination with the team or family, set up goals to address in therapy and at home. The therapy should include education and training for the patient, family, and caregivers, as well as methods to compensate for communicative weaknesses while the goals for improvement in each specific area is being targeted.

Speech therapy may be offered while an individual is in the hospital, in rehabilitation facilities, and upon return to home via outpatient or home health therapy. Unfortunately, there are limitations on coverage of speech therapy services, and discharge from therapy is often earlier than what is anticipated or desired by an individual with aphasia.

What is Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA)?

Here is a great link to some info from the NIH on FrontoTemporal Disorders, including Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA).

What happens when an individual stops receiving therapy?

This is a tough question, as the answer is as varied as individuals themselves. The severity of the aphasia, the availability of support from family and friends, resources, activities, motivation, and personality are all contributing factors to the question. The unfortunate truth is that while there are considerable means of support and access in the community for those with mobility impairments (e.g., wheelchair access), hearing impairments (auditory aids in theaters, churches), and other disabilities, there is a limited amount of support for individuals who can not communicate effectively their wants and needs. This reduced access, combined with a lack of knowledge and understanding of aphasia by the layperson, sets many individuals up for social isolation, and at the very least, reduced independence in community engagement.

What other options are available for individuals with aphasia?

Speech pathologists across the country are seeking ways to improve service to individuals with aphasia, their families and caregivers, and the communities that serve them. A project panel with the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASLHA; www.asha.org ) recently offered a statement of guiding values in their publication of Life Participation Approaches to aphasia. In that statement, they encourage a refocusing of clinical efforts in the area of research to better, and more holistically, address the impact of aphasia. They support development of programs that continue communicative intervention and support for as long as needed, and desired, by the individual with aphasia. In addition, they advocate life goals that encourage return to social, community pursuits and a respect for the competency of individuals who suffer from aphasia.

The Triangle Aphasia Project Unlimited is one such answer to this call. The project is developed by individuals with aphasia, family members, and the professionals that serve them. Our programs are individualized, centered through compassion, and committed to innovation in the area of aphasia. Our mission is to serve individuals with aphasia, their families, and the community through innovative life participation approaches that maximize communicative potential and reduce barriers to social re-engagement.