What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a loss of communication skills. This involves speaking, reading, writing, and understanding. In some cases, cognition may also be affected. It is caused due to damage to the left side of the brain. This area controls language. This damage can be due to stroke, old age, or trauma to the brain. In some cases, infection and other diseases such as dementia can also lead to Aphasia. In other words, parts of the brain for language have a deficit. Further, there is trouble speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. This is caused due to a stroke most often. Other neuro disorders can also cause a stroke.

There are different types of aphasia. Global aphasia is a severe form of aphasia. Anomic aphasia is the mild form. In any case, you need speech therapy to help you communicate and recover from aphasia. In the next para, I will be answering some questions related to aphasia recovery.

Aphasia is an acquired language disorder. It is the inability to comprehend or express language. Aphasia usually occurs in adults after cerebrovascular accidents such as strokes. It can also result from a brain tumor, head injury, or significant damage to the left hemisphere. Almost 25-40% of stroke survivors present with Aphasia and need therapy.

There are mainly two broad categories in which communication is impaired in Aphasia.

  1. Impaired Comprehension: Inability to understand what the speaker is saying to them.
  2. Impaired Expression: Inability to use spoken language in conversations

So now that we know what Aphasia is, what exactly happens? And what difficulties occur?

Read a detail blog on Recovery and progress in aphasia therapy

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when there is sudden lack of blood supply to the brain which prevents oxygen to reach the delicate brain parts. Due to this the brain cells start to die within minutes. A stroke can result because of the rupture of a blood vessel or due to an injury.

Risk Factors for stroke

You might think that strokes happen only to the elderly but this isn't true. In fact, they can occur in any of us, although some of us are more susceptible to getting a stroke. Here are some risk factors :

  1. Age
  2. Gender
  3. Family history
  4. Heart disease ( irregular heart beat)
  5. High Blood pressure
  6. Cholesterol levels
  7. High blood sugar
  8. Smoking/Drinking habits
  9. Unhealthy diet
  10. Lack of physical activity.

Some of the above can be controlled with wise decisions and adopting healthier habits.

How long does it take to recover?

Rehabilitation is a long process. The patient will continue showing improvement every month and week. They may continue to recover over the years. Each person has a different timeline. There is no fixed timeline. We need to have patience and follow the guidelines given by an SLP.

Can Aphasia worsen over time or is it temporary?

Aphasia will only worsen over time if it's associated with progressive disease. In cases of, primary progressive aphasia and dementia.  It may be temporary in cases of transient ischemic stroke.

How long do people live?

Life expectancy does not correlate with aphasia. If there is no associated condition like swallowing difficulties or other life-threatening complications. They are expected to live their natural course of life.

Does aphasia worsen with age?

You would see improvement in their speaking abilities. Their other abilities will also show improvement. A regression is typically not seen in aphasia with age. If there is a regression, please contact your, neurologist.

Can Aphasia go away?

Firstly, I want you to understand what is recovery? It means regaining the lost skills. It also means learning new ways to compensate for the lost skill. In the case of aphasia, other areas of the brain may take up the function of that area and may recover from damage. Recovery also means fully recovered with no sign of the issue. Recovered but a little slow and some signs of an issue. Recovered but needs help more often.

So, can a person with aphasia recover fully? The answer is Yes and No. The yes, aphasia goes away comes with a lot of terms and conditions. In the case of transient ischemic stroke, it may completely go away. It may also go away in cases of mild aphasia. If the aphasia type is severe, it may go away in some cases. However, the condition for this is intensive speech therapy.

Impairment Based Therapy for Aphasia

The aim of using impairment-based therapies is to improve language functions. This includes working on speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. A speech therapist will use speech therapy to help Aphasia recover. You will observe your speech therapist use various techniques to do this.

Language therapy will most importantly focus on tasks that promote comprehension and expression skills. Some techniques also facilitate reading and writing skills. Along with this, the speech therapist will ask you or the caregivers to do some home training activities to supplement your progress.

Some impairment-based therapies commonly used for Aphasia include:

  • Verb Network Strengthening Treatment (VNeST) to improve comprehension skills
  • Semantic Feature Analysis (SFA) to improve naming skills
  • Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT) to improve expressive skills
  • Oral Reading for Language in Aphasia (ORLA) to improve reading and writing skills

Tips for Aphasia Therapy

Aphasia Therapy, Aphasia is a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate. It can affect your ability to speak, write and understand language, both verbal and written. Aphasia typically occurs suddenly after a stroke or a head injury. Here are some tips to improve speech after a stroke.

  • Capitalize on strengths and address weaknesses related to underlying structures and functions that affect communication across partners, activities, and settings.
  • Facilitate the individual’s activities and participation by (a) teaching new skills and compensatory strategies to both the individual with aphasia and his or her partner(s) and (b) incorporating AAC strategies if appropriate; and modify contextual factors that serve as barriers and enhance those that facilitate successful communication and participation, including accommodations such as large print, pictures, and aphasia-friendly formatting to support comprehension of written health materials (e.g., Rose, Worrall, & McKenna, 2003; Rose, Worrall, Hickson, & Hoffman, 2011).
  • Treatment can be restorative(i.e., aimed at improving or restoring impaired function)hello and/or compensatory (i.e., aimed at compensating for deficits not amenable to retraining).
  • No one therapy is sufficient for aphasia. As therapist we need to combine the therapy techniques which go best with the person.
  • Simplify your sentences and slow your pace.
  • Keep conversations one-on-one initially. Jump to group sessions only after the Person with Aphasia is comfortable and confident.
  • Use drawings or gestures when you aren't understood.
  • Involve the person with aphasia in conversations as much as possible.

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