Aphasia is a neurological disorder caused by damage to the portions of the brain that are responsible for language production or processing. It may occur suddenly or progressively, depending on the type and location of brain tissue involved. Primary signs of the disorder include difficulty in expressing oneself when speaking, trouble understanding speech, and difficulty with reading and writing. Aphasia is not a disease, but a symptom of brain damage. Although it is primarily seen in individuals who have suffered a stroke, aphasia can also result from a brain tumor, infection, inflammation, head injury, or dementia that affect language-associated regions of the brain. It is estimated that about 1 million people in the United States today suffer from aphasia. The type and severity of language dysfunction depends on the precise location and extent of the damaged brain tissue.
Generally, aphasia can be divided into four broad categories: (1) Expressive aphasia (also called Broca’s aphasia) involves difficulty in conveying thoughts through speech or writing. The person knows what she/he wants to say, but cannot find the words he needs. (2) Receptive aphasia (Wernicke’s aphasia) involves difficulty understanding spoken or written language. The individual hears the voice or sees the print but cannot make sense of the words. (3) Global aphasia results from severe and extensive damage to the language areas of the brain. People lose almost all language function, both comprehension and expression. They cannot speak or understand speech, nor can they read or write. (4) Indiivfduals with anomic or amnesia aphasia, the least severe form of aphasia, have difficulty in using the correct names for particular objects, people, places, or events.
In some instances, an individual will completely recover from aphasia without treatment. In most cases, however, language therapy should begin as soon as possible and be tailored to the individual needs of the person. Rehabilitation with a speech pathologist involves extensive exercises in which individuals read, write, follow directions, and repeat what they hear. Computer-aided therapy may supplement standard language therapy.
The outcome of aphasia is difficult to predict given the wide range of variability of the condition. Generally, people who are younger or have less extensive brain damage fare better. The location of the injury is also important and is another clue to prognosis. In general, people tend to recover skills in language comprehension more completely than those skills involving expression.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders conduct and support a broad range of scientific investigations to increase our understanding of aphasia, find better treatments, and discover improved methods to restore lost function to people who have aphasia. Information from the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlusAphasia
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association(ASHA)
2200 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850
Professional, scientific, and credentialing association for audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists. Offers public information about a wide range of speech, language, and hearing disabilities in both children and adults.
Aphasia Hope Foundation
P.O. Box 79701
Houston, TX 77279
Charitable foundation that works to increase the public's awareness of aphasia and the effective long-term treatments available to people with aphasia. Serves as a resource for families, friends, and caregivers.
Information sourced through CNF’s partnership with The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), US National Institutes of Health.