What Is Aphasia?

What Is Aphasia?

Aphasia, also known as dysphasia, is a language disorder. It affects how you speak and understand language. People with aphasia might have trouble putting the right words together in a sentence, understanding what others say, and reading and writing.

Overview of Aphasia

‌Specific parts of your brain help you speak and understand written and spoken language. Aphasia happens when those parts of the brain don’t work properly because of a brain injury, dementia, and other causes. Aphasia isn’t a sign of low intelligence or ability. When you have aphasia, you have difficulty communicating your thoughts and ideas through words.

Language disorders like aphasia affect how you read, write, speak, and understand others’ speech. They are caused by problems with your brain, not the actual function of your ears, mouth, or other body parts you use to talk and listen. 

Types of Aphasia

‌All types of aphasia can be frustrating. Many people with aphasia know exactly what they want to say but have trouble communicating it through words. There are multiple types of aphasia, including:

Fluent or receptive aphasia (Wernicke’s aphasia). With this type of aphasia, you’re able to physically speak, but others might not understand what you say. The sentences you form in speech or writing don’t always follow grammatical rules. You may say made-up words that sound like they could be words in your language.

Some people refer to this speaking pattern as “word salad.”

People with this kind of aphasia often have vision problems, too.

Nonfluent or expressive aphasia (Broca’s aphasia). Broca’s aphasia makes it difficult to put together words to communicate your ideas. People with this type of aphasia have trouble forming complete sentences while speaking or writing. They may take long pauses between words and talk in very short sentences, such as “Set table” instead of “I set the table.” However, people with this form of aphasia don’t have a problem understanding what other people say.

Anomic aphasia. With anomic aphasia, you have difficulty remembering and saying individual words. You may speak clearly and form understandable sentences but forget common words for people, places, or objects. People with anomic aphasia may use vague terms like “thing” instead of more specific words.‌

Global aphasia. Global aphasia is when you have symptoms of both expressive and receptive dysphasia. People with global aphasia can’t form many coherent words or sentences and have trouble understanding other people. Global aphasia can become less severe over time. It can also disappear completely after a migraine or seizure.

Progressive aphasia. This type of aphasia is first mild and then becomes more severe over time. People with progressive aphasia may still be able to understand others, but their speech and writing get worse as they age.

Causes of Aphasia

People aren’t born with aphasia. It is caused by damage to the language-processing areas of your brain. Dysphasia can be caused by:

  • Stroke (most common)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Head injury
  • Migraine
  • Epilepsy
  • Dementia
  • Brain tumor‌

Testing for Aphasia

To determine if you have aphasia, your doctor may refer you to a specialist called a speech-language pathologist. The pathologist will have you name objects, read, write, or perform other language-related tasks. 

Your doctor may also recommend an electronic scan of your brain, such as a CT scan, PET scan, or MRI. These scans take images of your brain that can show damage and other issues.

Treatment for Aphasia

Treatment for aphasia depends on its type. A speech-language pathologist can help create strategies and exercises to remember words. Treatment sessions can be one-on-one or in a group. 

Sometimes, aphasia improves on its own without treatment.

Helping People Who Have Aphasia

If you’re not a speech pathologist, you can help people with aphasia communicate more easily. Ask simple questions, speak clearly, and use hand gestures and facial expressions.


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