A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Aphasia: a loss of language

aphasia is a loss of language

Aphasia is the difficulty to understand language and communication. It can happen after stroke or other brain injuries or trauma.

Aphasia is an impairment that can impact how you speak and understand language and communication. This means a person may have difficulties understanding all varieties of language including writing, speaking, reading and signing.

Symptoms of aphasia

Some of the first things you may notice include:

  • Struggling to find the correct words or speaking unrecognizable words.
  • Trouble with reading comprehension and writing.
  • Speak in short or incomplete sentences.
  • Difficulty understanding conversation.

If these symptoms occur suddenly, seek evaluation with a neurologist. These symptoms can occur after a stroke, head injury, due to a brain tumor or other disease or condition impacting the brain.

Subsequently, once you know the cause a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can complete a comprehensive assessment of language to diagnosis aphasia. The speech therapy specialist will evaluate ability in naming, auditory understanding, repetition, yes/no questions and fluency to diagnose type and severity.

Treatment is tailored to patient needs

People with aphasia can receive therapy in the hospital, inpatient rehabilitation, skilled nursing facilities or at home. “Wherever a person receives therapy for aphasia, the main goal is to reduce the overall disability associated with aphasia,” said Katie Beck, CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist from Marshfield Clinic Health System. “We (SLPs) aim to improve language function, everyday communication activities and social participation.

For example, if a patient is in the hospital, much of the focus of therapy is on functional communication. The speech-language pathologist will work towards improving the patient’s ability to communicate essential wants and needs to health care providers and loved ones. One method includes implementing an alternative augmentative communication (AAC) device, typically a low-tech communication board. Using this board the patient can point to words or pictures to have their basic needs met.

Other methods include establishing a reliable yes/no system. If a patient cannot verbally produce “yes” and “no,” they may be able to shake their head, or use a thumbs up or down. They will work on relearning and practicing language skills.

“Therapy can also target the communicative effectiveness of communication partners,” Beck said. “This assists loved ones and caregivers to find the most effective way to communicate.”

Impacts to other areas of life and mental health

Aphasia can directly affect success in work and school, given the demands of these areas. “Aphasia can unfortunately be a very isolating diagnosis,” Beck said. “Individuals may avoid social functions, as it is difficult for them to communicate and participate.”

Some people will see a lot of improvement in their aphasia while they are initially recovering. Conversely, others may have more long-term effects. At times, language impairment can be just as debilitating as a physical impairment. However, someone with aphasia doesn’t have a cognitive defect. It is a loss of language, not intellect.

If you or someone you love has any symptoms of aphasia or signs of a stroke, you should seek immediate medical attention or call 911.

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