Aphasia is an acquired disorder that affects the ability to communicate, such as having trouble speaking, reading, writing and understanding language. The condition may occur secondary to brain injury or degeneration that usually involves the left cerebral hemisphere (the left side of the brain). Each person’s experience with aphasia is unique, depending on the location of the stroke or brain injury, the extent of damage, age and general health of the person and their ability to recover.
Different types of aphasia
While there are two broad categories of aphasia (fluent and non-fluent), there are actually several types within these groups, such as the following three main types:
- Wernicke’s aphasia: Damage to the temporal lobe of the brain may result in Wernicke's aphasia, which is the most common type of fluent aphasia. People with Wernicke's aphasia may speak in long, complete sentences that have no meaning, adding unnecessary words and even creating made-up words.
- Broca’s aphasia: The most common type of non-fluent aphasia is Broca's aphasia, which primarily results from the damaged frontal lobe of the brain. Patients often have right-sided weakness or paralysis of the arm and leg because the frontal lobe is involved in those movements. People with Broca's aphasia may understand speech and know what they want to say, but they frequently speak in short phrases that are produced with great effort.
- Global aphasia: Global aphasia results from damage to extensive portions of the language areas of the brain. Individuals with global aphasia have severe communication difficulties and have extremely limited ability to speak or comprehend language. They may be unable to even say a few words or may repeat the same words or phrases repeatedly. They may also have trouble understanding simple words and sentences.
Other types of aphasia
Other types of aphasia result from damage to different language areas in the brain. Some people may have difficulty repeating words and sentences even though they understand them and can speak fluently (conduction aphasia). Others may have difficulty naming objects, even though they know what the object is and what it may be used for (anomic aphasia).
How is aphasia diagnosed?
Assessing language functions carefully and other relevant signs are important considerations for the diagnosis of the localization and cause of aphasia. These signs may include:
- Difficulties with vision, especially hemianopia
- Deficits of motor or sensory function
- Neurobehavioral deficits, such as alexia, agraphia, acalculia or apraxia
- Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, may be ordered, which identify the cause and areas of the brain that are damaged.
What are the treatment options for aphasia?
The recommended treatment for aphasia is usually speech and language therapy, as well as managing the underlying condition causing the brain damage. Additionally, treatment is aimed at improving language comprehension and communication abilities and developing other communication methods as needed. Sometimes aphasia improves on its own without treatment.
For people with aphasia, speech and language therapy aims to:
- Restore as much of their speech and language as possible (reduce impairment).
- Help the patient communicate to the best of their ability (increase activity and participation).
- Find alternative ways of communicating (use compensatory strategies or aids).
- Provide information to patients and their families about aphasia.
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Kirshner HS. Aphasia. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1135944-overview
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