Affecting approximately 1 in 250 Americans, Aphasia is a common neurological disorder resulting from damage to the language centers of the brain. While the precise symptoms experienced vary depending on the location of the damage, some of the most common include difficulty reading, writing, speaking, and understanding speech.
Due to the importance of language and communication, living with aphasia can place a serious strain on your loved one, particularly if the symptoms are severe. Luckily, for many who suffer from aphasia, their prognosis may be greatly improved with little more than regular speech therapy and a well-informed family caregiver.
Types of Aphasia
There are five types of aphasia, diagnosed on the basis of where communication deficits occur, and each of them is worth knowing about.
One of the mildest forms is called anomic aphasia. With this form of aphasia, the individual has difficulty choosing the correct word they’re looking for when speaking. Understanding speech is generally not an issue, but a person’s writing may suffer as a consequence of being unable to find the right words.
Broca’s aphasia is a more serious and frustrating type in which the speaker knows what they want to express, but can’t produce the words correctly. Because their ability to express themselves is impaired, they may communicate with shorter statements and poor grammar. Expressive aphasia is similar to Broca’s in that speaking can become difficult and labor intensive, but it also presents with severe difficulty in understanding speech. This may leave the patient reading or writing on roughly a third grade level.
Receptive aphasia (sometimes known as Wernicke’s Aphasia) is a somewhat rare form in which the speaker doesn’t know the words they’re speaking aren’t correct, and feel as though they are talking unimpaired. This form often involves extreme comprehension difficulties for spoken words, reading, and writing. This loss of comprehension is only outpaced by global aphasia, where there is impairment in every aspect of one’s ability to communicate. Generally occurring in stroke patients, nearly all language function is lost, including speech comprehension, reading, and the ability to write.
Finally, there is primary progressive aphasia. As the name suggests, this rare degenerative form causes communication skills to gradually get worse with time. Early symptoms often involve struggling to name objects, or using increasingly broken grammar. Unlike the other forms of aphasia listed here, progressive aphasia actually results from a type of dementia.
Fortunately, those who suffer from aphasia are far from without hope. Studies have proven that intensive speech therapy, such as daily therapy for the duration of an entire summer, is one of the most effective forms of aphasia treatment. In some cases, aphasia will show improvement on its own with time. However, speech and language therapy is generally recommended to ensure the rapid and successful recovery of as many communication skills as possible.
Therapy is often individualized to accommodate the specific type of aphasia, as well as the goals of the patient and their family. Speech therapy for aphasia generally aims to restore language abilities by training error-prone areas, strengthening existing communicative skills, finding ways to compensate for impairments with alternative methods of communication, training caregivers to effectively communicate, and educate family members about aphasia.
In short, speech therapy can help improve the quality of life of patients, maximizing their ability to communicate in their daily lives both now and in the future. Even though studies have shown that improvements can be made even years after initial onset, it’s worth remembering that this type of therapy is most effective when started early.
Tips and Resources
If you’re caring for someone with aphasia, it’s important to learn how to effectively communicate with them to accommodate their altered language capacities. There are a few things to keep in mind. To begin with, after you’ve finished speaking, provide them with ample time to form a response. You may try using simpler sentences and avoid rapidly changing the topic of conversation.
If at all possible, stick to yes and no questions rather than open ended ones because they’re easier to answer. Try to resist your inclination to correct errors in speech, which may cause frustration, and is unlikely to be useful. If necessary, consider using a pen and paper to convey important words or ideas, or try drawing a diagram to reinforce what it is you’re trying to say.
Finally, you should take a look at the wealth of aphasia therapy materials available online. One of the most notable examples is provided by TalkPath Therapy, who have provided a free app on the iTunes store that can help those who suffer from aphasia work on their speech skills on their own time with thousands of exercises. With built-in reporting to track progress, there are few ways to improve aphasia that are as interactive, effective, or fun.