Tuesday, October 27, 2009



Aphasia is a neurological disorder caused by damage to the portions of the brain that are responsible for language. Primary signs of the disorder include difficulty in expressing oneself when speaking, trouble understanding speech, and difficulty with reading and writing. Aphasia is not a disease, but a symptom of brain damage. Most commonly seen in adults who have suffered a stroke, aphasia can also result from a brain tumor, infection, head injury, or dementia that damages the brain. It is estimated that about 1 million people in the United States today suffer from aphasia. The type and severity of language dysfunction depends on the precise location and extent of the damaged brain tissue.

Generally, aphasia can be divided into four broad categories: (1) Expressive aphasia involves difficulty in conveying thoughts through speech or writing. The patient knows what he wants to say, but cannot find the words he needs. (2)Receptive aphasia involves difficulty understanding spoken or written language. The patient hears the voice or sees the print but cannot make sense of the words. (3) Patients with anomic or amnesia aphasia, the least severe form of aphasia, have difficulty in using the correct names for particular objects, people, places, or events. (4) Global aphasiaresults from severe and extensive damage to the language areas of the brain. Patients lose almost all language function, both comprehension and expression. They cannot speak or understand speech, nor can they read or write.


In some instances, an individual will completely recover from aphasia without treatment. In most cases, however, language therapy should begin as soon as possible and be tailored to the individual needs of the patient. Rehabilitation with a speech pathologist involves extensive exercises in which patients read, write, follow directions, and repeat what they hear. Computer-aided therapy may supplement standard language therapy.

Family involvement is often a crucial component of aphasia treatment so that family members can learn the best way to communicate with their loved one.

Family members are encouraged to:

  • Simplify language by using short, uncomplicated sentences.
  • Repeat the content words or write down key words to clarify meaning as needed.
  • Maintain a natural conversational manner appropriate for an adult.
  • Minimize distractions, such as a loud radio or TV, whenever possible.
  • Include the person with aphasia in conversations.
  • Ask for and value the opinion of the person with aphasia, especially regarding family matters.
  • Encourage any type of communication, whether it is speech, gesture, pointing, or drawing.
  • Avoid correcting the person’s speech.
  • Allow the person plenty of time to talk.
  • Help the person become involved outside the home. Seek out support groups such as stroke clubs.


The outcome of aphasia is difficult to predict given the wide range of variability of the condition. Generally, people who are younger or have less extensive brain damage fare better. The location of the injury is also important and is another clue to prognosis. In general, patients tend to recover skills in language comprehension more completely than those skills involving expression.

Research being done

Scientists are attempting to reveal the underlying problems that cause certain symptoms of aphasia. The goal is to understand how injury to a particular part of the brain impairs a person’s ability to convey and understand language. The results could be useful in treating various types of aphasia, since the treatment may change depending upon the cause of the language problem.

Other research is attempting to understand the parts of the language process that contribute to sentence comprehension and production and how these parts may break down in aphasia. In this way, it may be possible to pinpoint where the breakdown occurs and help in the development of more focused treatment programs.

Although different languages have many things in common when specific portions of the brain are injured, there are also differences. Scientists are trying to understand the common (or universal) symptoms of aphasia and the language-specific symptoms of the disorder. Other researchers are examining whether people with aphasia may still know their language but have difficulty accessing that knowledge. These studies may help with the development of tests and rehabilitation strategies that focus on specific characteristics of one language or multiple languages.

Researchers are exploring drug therapy as an experimental approach to treating aphasia. Some studies are testing how drugs can be used in combination with speech therapy to improve recovery of various language functions.

Researchers are also looking at how treatment of other cognitive deficits involving attention and memory can improve communication abilities.

To understand recovery processes in the brain, some researchers are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to better understand the human brain regions involved in speaking and understanding language. This type of research may improve understanding of how these areas reorganize after brain injury. The results could have implications for both the basic understanding of brain function and the diagnosis and treatment of neurological diseases.

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