Understanding and Living with Aphasia

caregiving comforting senior lady with aphasia

For people living with aphasia, language skills are often affected.

Damage to the brain, caused by a stroke or head injury, may lead to aphasia, a language disorder that affects speech and communication. Aphasia may make it difficult for individuals to speak, understand what others say, read, or write. According to the National Aphasia Association, there are at least two million Americans living with aphasia, and approximately one-third of strokes result in aphasia. Aphasia affects both men and women, typically in middle age and older. Although there is no cure for aphasia, there are therapies that may help people living with aphasia.

Symptoms of Aphasia

The symptoms may vary depending on the type of aphasia a person has. Some of the common symptoms include the following:

  • Speaking in short sentences
  • Not making sense, or speaking with unrecognizable words
  • Having trouble finding words to say, or saying the wrong words
  • Switching the sounds within words
  • Not understanding conversations
  • Not understanding what they read
  • Writing words or sentences that don’t make sense
  • Omitting words

Types of Aphasia

There are different types of aphasia, depending on the level of damage and which areas of the brain are most affected. Johns Hopkins Medicine defines some of the common types as follows:

Broca aphasia — This form of aphasia is the result of damage to the front part of the language-portion of the brain. Someone with Broca aphasia may omit words such as “the” and “and” when they speak. They will speak with short sentences and can usually understand what others say. There also may be weakness or paralysis on the right side of the body because the damaged part of the brain also affects motor movements.

Wernicke aphasia — This form of aphasia is the result of damage to the side of the language portion of the brain. People with this form may speak in long, rambling sentences with words that don’t make sense. They have more difficulty understanding what others say.

Global aphasia — This form of aphasia is the result of damage to a large area of the language portion of the brain. People with global aphasia have difficulties speaking and understanding language.

Causes of Aphasia

Aphasia is caused by damage to the brain in the areas that control language. Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia. Brain tumors, head injuries, and some infections may also damage the brain cells enough to cause aphasia. Aphasia may develop gradually over time as brain cells degenerate. Some individuals may have temporary bouts of aphasia due to seizures, migraines, or a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Diagnosing Aphasia

Aphasia is often a result of a serious condition that may require immediate medical attention. Speak with a physician if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Problems speaking or understanding speech
  • Having difficulty remembering words
  • Trouble with reading or writing

Doctors diagnose aphasia by conducting tests to study speech and language skills. Imaging tests that look at the brain, such as MRI and CT scans, may also be used.

Living with Aphasia

Although there is no definite cure for aphasia, many people improve over time with speech therapy. Speech therapists can help develop new ways of communicating through nonverbal communication methods or the use of technology. Even if some language skills are regained, people with aphasia may still have communication difficulties, often leading to feelings of frustration. Not being able to communicate effectively can have a negative impact on the person’s life.

To help a loved one living with aphasia, try using new communication methods. It is beneficial for both the individual with aphasia and the family members or friends to learn how to most effectively communicate with each other. Some ideas to try include:

  • Use short sentences.
  • Repeat important words to make sure you’re understood.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Watch for expressions of nonverbal communication, such as body language, gestures, and pointing.
  • Try drawing instead of speaking.
  • Avoid correcting the individual’s speech or finishing their sentences for them.
  • Allow the individual time to gather their thoughts and to communicate however is most comfortable for them.
  • Try using technology as a means to communicate.
  • Join support groups.

Visiting Care Giving Services offers a variety of elder care services including in-home health services to help individuals following a stroke, injury, or chronic illness. Our compassionate caregivers are available to assist with customizable services tailored to each individual’s needs, whether they need a few hours per day or round-the-clock care. Contact us today at (636) 493-9058 or through our online form to learn more about our trusted elder care in St. Peters and the surrounding areas.