“It’s on the tip of my tongue” is a phrase everyone has said time and time again. Sometimes it’s hard to find that word you’re looking for, which is normal. But for people with a disorder called aphasia, it’s as if their brain’s “word cabinet” falls over and mixes all of their words around, resulting in varying levels and forms of language comprehension and expression impairment.
Because June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, Shayna Baker, Mayo Clinic Health System speech-language pathologist, shares information to help you learn more about the condition, its causes and how it’s treated.
A person who is affected by aphasia may:
Speak in words or sentences that don’t make sense
Speak in short or incomplete sentences
Have difficulty understanding conversations
Experience trouble writing understandable sentences
Seek medical help immediately if you or a loved one experiences these symptoms. A form of aphasia can be the first sign of stroke.
Brain damage caused by a stroke is the most common cause of aphasia. A stroke results from the bursting or blockage of blood vessels supplying the brain. This creates a reduction of blood flow to the brain, which deprives the brain of essential nutrients and oxygen needed to support brain cell life.
Aphasia can also surface due to a brain tumor, infection or degenerative disease. Aphasia is always the result of an underlying condition. The severity of the underlying cause determines the severity of language difficulties.
Temporary aphasia can appear during a migraine, seizure or transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke). Anyone who experiences a TIA is at an elevated risk for a full-blown stroke in the near future.
Aphasia is categorized three ways:
Nonfluent aphasia. People with this form of aphasia speak in short sentences with missing words and have difficulty getting words out. Also known as Broca’s aphasia, nonfluent can be frustrating for sufferers as they are often aware of their communication difficulties.
Fluent aphasia. Fluent, or Wernicke, aphasia refers to individuals who communicate in long sentences that are difficult to understand or contain incomprehensible, unnecessary or incorrect words. Most people with fluent aphasia don’t realize they have a communication disorder.
Global aphasia. This is the most severe form of aphasia, causing major comprehension and expression disabilities.
4. Treatment and coping.
Speech-language therapy is the most common form of treatment for aphasia, and this comes after the underlying cause of aphasia has been addressed. Early intervention and timely treatment is imperative for achieving maximum results.
A speech-language pathologist works with aphasic patients to regain as many previous language skills as possible or, with certain diseases and conditions, to maintain their current level of communication ability. Patients commonly work in a hierarchical fashion, meaning that they start with simple exercises and work their way up. (i.e. Speaking, reading or writing single words, then progressing to full sentences, then a paragraph and so on.)
Page 2 of 2 - In terms of coping, family and friends can make adjustments to simplify conversations and aid in comprehension. This keeps people with aphasia included and eases some apprehension they may have about communicating. Individuals with aphasia may also choose to use images and gestures to help them communicate. There are also various support groups to assist in the healing and coping process.
Aphasia is a challenging communication disorder that creates many obstacles for patients and their families. Fortunately, raising awareness about the condition, its underlying causes and treatment options can help to reduce the effects aphasia has on many lives.