Aphasia is a communication disorder resulting from damage to the language centers of the brain. It is most often caused by stroke, but sometimes results from traumatic brain injury, tumors, or other neurological diseases. People with aphasia may have problems with any or all language skills, including speaking, listening, reading, and/or writing. Aphasia can occur along with other disorders such as dysarthria, apraxia, or dysphagia.
Symptoms of Aphasia
Aphasia symptoms vary in severity depending on how much and where brain damage has occurred. People with mild aphasia may have occasional trouble thinking of the word they want to use (also called anomia) or understanding only very lengthy information. People with severe aphasia may be unable to understand even simple instructions or speak any words at all.
Examples of aphasia symptoms include:
- Speaks or writes in single words or short phrases, often leaving out verbs and short words like is, the, and
- Says words in sentences, or sounds within words, in the wrong order
- Uses a mix of nonsense words and real words, so that speech makes no sense
- Slow to process spoken or written information
- Cannot follow written or spoken multi-step directions
- Cannot understand figures of speech and humor
Assessing and Treating Aphasia
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are trained to diagnose the type and severity of aphasia by assessing a person's language skills. The SLP may use formal and informal tests to measure understanding and production of both spoken and written language. The SLP will also look at the medical and personal history and talk to the client and family about communication skills and goals.
The aphasia treatment plan is very individualized and depends on the test results as well as on the client and family's specific needs and goals. Treatment will likely involve teaching compensatory strategies (ways of working around the problems) as well as activities aimed at improving language skills. These activities may include paper and pencil tasks, computer programs, naming or conversation practice, or reading/writing tasks with everyday materials such as signs or newspapers. The SLP will also train family members on how to do language exercises at home and how best to communicate with the client. If language problems are severe, the SLP may talk to the client and family about using an augmentative or alternative communication method.