Aphasia is when a person has difficulty with their language or speech. It's usually caused by damage to the left side of the brain.
People with aphasia often have trouble with:
Speaking problems are perhaps the most obvious and people with aphasia may make mistakes with the words they use. This could be sometimes using the wrong sounds in a word, choosing the wrong word, or putting words together incorrectly.
Aphasia is often classified as "expressive" or "receptive", depending on whether there are difficulties with understanding or expressing language, or both. But most people with aphasia have some trouble with their speaking and will have a mixture of problems with writing, reading and perhaps listening.
Symptoms can range widely from getting a few words mixed up to having difficulty with all forms of communication. Some people are unaware that their speech makes no sense and get frustrated when others don't understand them.
Causes of aphasia
Aphasia is caused by damage to parts of the brain responsible for understanding and producing language. Common causes include:
- severe head injury
- brain tumour
- progressive neurological conditions that cause the brain and nervous system to become damaged over time, such as dementia.
Aphasia can affect people of all ages, but it's most common in people over the age of 65. This is because strokes and progressive neurological conditions tend to affect older adults.
Aphasia is usually diagnosed after tests carried out by a clinician – either a speech and language therapist or a doctor. They can also help arrange treatment if necessary. These tests often involve simple exercises, such as asking a person to name objects in the room, repeat words and sentences and read and write.
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Speech and language therapy is the main type of treatment for people with aphasia. This aims to help restore some of the person's ability to communicate, as well as helping to develop alternative ways of communicating, if necessary.
Patients may receive speech and language therapy on an individual basis or in a group, depending on their needs and the service provided. An increasing number of computer-based applications are available to support people with aphasia, but it's important to start using these with the assistance of a speech and language therapist.
How successful treatment is differs from person to person. Most people with aphasia make some degree of recovery and some recover fully. If the aphasia is caused by a one-off event, like a stroke, most patients recover to some degree with therapy.
There's no evidence to suggest that recovery stops at a specific time after stroke. However, the chances of recovery is poorer for people with aphasia resulting from a progressive neurological condition.
Some people can still respond to therapy, but there are currently no good ways of reversing the ongoing injury to the brain.
When aphasia is caused by a progressive condition, treatment focuses on making the most of what people can still do and developing other ways of communicating to prepare for a time when speaking will be more difficult.