Aphasia Awareness: Understanding and caring for those with aphasia

June 06, 2023

About 1 million people in the United States currently have aphasia, and nearly 180,000 Americans acquire it each year. June marks the start of Aphasia Awareness Month; a national campaign to increase public education around the language disorder and to recognize the numerous people who are living with or caring for people with aphasia. We at True Care want to ensure  our readers have all the information they need when it comes to understanding aphasia. Read along as we break down aphasia and raise awareness about the effects of having aphasia, learn some communication tips, discuss assistive devices for those with aphasia, and more.

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. For most people, these areas are on the left side of the brain. Aphasia usually occurs suddenly, often following a stroke or head injury, but it may also develop slowly, as the result of a brain tumor or a progressive neurological disease. The disorder impairs the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Aphasia may co-occur with speech disorders, such as dysarthria or apraxia of speech, which can also result from brain damage.

Most people who have aphasia are middle-aged or older, but anyone can acquire it, including young children. Symptoms may begin gradually, often before age 65, and get worse over time. People with primary progressive aphasia can lose the ability to speak and write. It is possible to recover, however if the symptoms of aphasia last longer than two or three months after a head injury, then recovery is unlikely. That said, some people may continue to improve over a period of years and even decades. 

Types of aphasia

Aphasia can severely limit an individual's functioning across many areas, with communication deficits leading to social isolation, loss of ability to perform preferred activities, depression, over-dependence on caregivers, and a reduced quality of life. There are many different types of aphasia, and each type of aphasia can have different levels of severity—mild, moderate, and severe. The six types of aphasia include:

  1. Global Aphasia: Global aphasia is the most severe type of aphasia. It is caused by injuries to multiple parts of the brain that are responsible for processing language. Patients with global aphasia can only produce a few recognizable words. They can understand very little or no spoken language. However, they may have fully preserved cognitive and intellectual abilities that are not related to language or speech. Global aphasia may be apparent immediately following a stroke or brain trauma. While this type of aphasia can improve as the brain heals, there may be lasting damage.
  2. Broca’s Aphasia: Broca’s aphasia is also called non-fluent or expressive aphasia. Patients with Broca’s aphasia have partial loss of their language ability. They have difficulty speaking fluently and their speech may be limited to a few words at a time. Because they can only get a few words out at a time, their speech is described as halting or effortful. They are usually able to understand speech well and maintain the ability to read but may have limited writing abilities. 
  3. Mixed Non-Fluent Aphasia: Patients with this type of aphasia have limited and effortful speech, similar to patients with Broca’s aphasia. However, their comprehension abilities are more limited than patients with Broca’s aphasia. They may be able to read and write, but not beyond an elementary school level.
  4. Wernicke’s Aphasia: Wernicke’s aphasia is also called fluent aphasia or receptive aphasia. It is referred to as fluent because while these individuals have an impaired ability to comprehend spoken words, they do not have difficulty producing connected speech. However, what they say may not make a lot of sense and they’ll use nonsense or irrelevant words in their sentences. Often, they do not realize that they are using the incorrect words. Someone with Wernicke’s aphasia will probably have an impaired ability to read and write and lose much of their language comprehension ability. 
  5. Anomic Aphasia: A person who suffers from anomic aphasia is unable to come up with the right words for what they want to talk about. They have a grasp on grammar and speech output, but they simply cannot find the words to discuss what they want to. When they speak, it is often vague and they might seem like they are “talking around” the thing they can’t describe. They also have difficulty finding words when they write. 
  6. Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA)- PPA is a neurological syndrome in which someone loses their ability to use language slowly and progressively. While most other forms of aphasia are caused by stroke, PPA is caused by neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease. PPA progresses as the tissue in the language centers of the brain deteriorates over time. Because this form of aphasia is associated with degenerative disorders, PPA is eventually accompanied by other symptoms of dementia or memory loss, and may be a sign of Alzheimer's disease.

Caring for those with aphasia

Some people mistakenly think those with aphasia aren’t as smart as they used to be. But they can think; they just can’t say what they think. Others can help people with aphasia express themselves by:

  • Asking yes/no questions
  • Paraphrasing periodically during conversation
  • Modifying the length and complexity of conversations
  • Using gestures to emphasize important points
  • Establishing a topic before beginning a conversation

When caring for or spending time with people who have aphasia, keep distractions such as background radio or TV noise to a minimum. Use paper and a pen to write down key words, or draw diagrams or pictures, to help reinforce the message and support their understanding. If it’s not clear what they are saying, don't pretend to understand. 

In conclusion:

Aphasia awareness means educating yourself, your immediate family, and your friends and co-workers about the disorder. Aphasia affects every aspect of a person's life, from being able to go out in public, to grocery shopping, to being able to express themselves. Understanding the different types and ways to care for those with aphasia helps create more space in society for those diagnosed with it. 

True Care understands the importance of care when it comes to aphasia and other brain illnesses. We offer a side-by-side plan of care development for people of all ages experiencing symptoms of aphasia, as well as seniors dealing with Alzhimer’s; a common occurrence with aphasia patients. Contact us today or visit our website for more information regarding our healthcare services for patients with aphasia and other cognitive disorders.

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