Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder in which there is loss or impairment of the ability to use or comprehend words. It affects different aspects of language including speaking, listening, writing, and/or reading. It does not affect intelligence.
Aphasia is one of the most common conditions caused by brain injury (including stroke and aneurysm). More than two million people in the U.S. are currently affected by aphasia according to the National Aphasia Association, but few outside the clinical world know what it is. In fact, given its prevalence, most of us have encountered someone with aphasia but just don’t know it by name.
What causes aphasia?
Anything that damages the language centers of the brain can cause aphasia, including:
- Ischemic Stroke, which occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, which prevents blood supply to areas of the brain supplied by that vessel.
- Hemorrhagic Stroke, when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain. Blood is “poisonous” to the brain, so if any parts of the brain are exposed to blood during a hemorrhage, they will be damaged. For example, a ruptured aneurysm can result in this type of stroke.
- Acquired Brain injury (ABI), an event where the brain is hit and damaged by trauma (this is called a traumatic brain injury, or TBI), or damaged by disease, such as brain tumors or encephalitis.
Who is impacted by aphasia?
Nearly 180,000 Americans acquire aphasia each year, usually after stroke or other brain injury. Aphasia affects people of all ages, races, nationalities and genders. More than 800,000 people/year have a stroke in the United States, and an estimated 1.7 million experience brain injury, both of which are common causes of aphasia. Aphasia is more prevalent than Parkinson’s, ALS, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy.
Is aphasia treatable?
Yes! It is treatable with speech-language therapy. The goal of this kind of therapy is to:
- help restore as much of your speech and language as possible
- help you communicate to the best of your ability (increase activity and participation)
- find alternative ways of communicating if necessary (use compensatory strategies or aids)
How the aphasia treatment is carried out depends on your circumstances. For example, intensive speech therapy may be recommended for some people, involving a number of sessions given in a shorter period of time. For others, shorter and less intensive sessions may be recommended. Therapy may be in individual sessions, in groups, or at home using computer apps. Recovery from aphasia is possible!