Project Description

Aphasia Fast Facts

Aphasia is a neurological condition that makes a person unable to communicate using language. It is usually caused by a health event that results in brain damage, such as a stroke.

About 750,000 strokes occur in the United States each year, and about a third of strokes produce aphasia.

About one million people in the United States suffer from aphasia, and about 180,000 new cases occur each year.

Some mild cases of aphasia may resolve on their own without treatment. Many cases get better with rehabilitation.

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a condition characterized by the loss of ability to communicate using language. The condition is caused by damage to the parts of the brain responsible for processing language. The most common cause of that damage is a stroke, an event in which blood flow to the brain is interrupted. However, other conditions or injuries may also cause aphasia.

Aphasia may affect all forms of language-based communication, including speech and written communication. Sufferers may be unable to speak effectively or understand spoken language, and they may be unable to write or read.

Symptoms of Aphasia

The symptoms of aphasia vary depending on the location of the damage to the brain and the severity of the damage. Common symptoms include:

  • Speaking in short, simple, or incomplete sentences
  • Mixing up words or sounds in speech
  • Using spoken or written language that doesn’t make sense
  • Not being able to understand spoken or written language

Types of Aphasia

Aphasia can be grouped into three different categories depending on the symptoms, including the patient’s ease of speaking, level of language comprehension, and the ability to repeat words or phrases. The different forms of the disorder are usually caused by damage to different parts of the brain.

  • Nonfluent aphasia. This type of the disorder, often called Broca aphasia, causes the sufferer to have trouble finding and speaking the right words. Spoken sentences are often incomplete (“Want water”), although the meaning of the speech might be intelligible. People with Broca aphasia often don’t recognize their language difficulties. This form of aphasia is usually caused by damage to the brain’s frontal lobe.
  • Fluent aphasia. In this type of aphasia, the sufferer doesn’t necessarily struggle to get words out, but their language is incorrect or doesn’t make sense. They typically are also unable to understand spoken language, and they often don’t recognize the problems they’re having. This type of aphasia is usually caused by damage to the temporal lobe in the middle of the brain.
  • Global aphasia. In this severe form of aphasia, the sufferer may be almost entirely unable to speak, read, write, or understand language. This type of aphasia is caused by damage throughout the parts of the brain used to process language.

Primary Progressive Aphasia

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a type of dementia that causes difficulties with verbal communication. Unlike types of aphasia that are caused by a sudden injury or a damaging event such as a stroke, progressive primary aphasia usually develops gradually over time. It is caused by the slow degeneration of brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Aphasia?

Aphasia is always caused by damage to the brain’s language centers, but the damage can come from a variety of causes:

  • Stroke. A stroke happens when a blocked or broken blood vessel cuts off blood flow to the brain. Oxygen-starved brain cells die or are damaged, and when the damage occurs in the language centers, aphasia can result.
  • Head trauma or injury.
  • Brain tumors. A growing tumor can cause aphasia if it affects the brain’s language centers. This type of the disorder is called neoplastic aphasia, and it may improve if the tumor is treated successfully.
  • Infections of the brain such as encephalitis, meningitis, or a brain abscess.
  • Degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Aphasia Hereditary?

Most cases of aphasia are caused by circumstances that are not inherited. Primary progressive aphasia, however, has been linked to inherited factors. About 40-50% of primary progressive aphasia (PPA) patients have a family history of the disorder.

In some rare cases, PPA is caused by an abnormal variation in a specific gene, called the GRN gene. Most cases of PPA are not caused by this particular gene mutation. Scientists are not sure what genetic factors, aside from the GRN gene, cause PPA to run in families, but it’s most likely caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Aphasia Detected?

Aphasia is often a sign of a potentially life-threatening medical event, such as a stroke. If you notice someone exhibiting the warning signs of aphasia, seek medical help for them immediately.

Warning signs of aphasia include:

  • Difficulty coming up with the right words, including names of familiar people, objects, places, etc.
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts
  • Difficulty understanding conversation
  • Difficulty with reading or writing
  • Mixing up words or putting them in the wrong order
  • Speaking in very simple or short sentences
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Leaving words out of sentences
  • Replacing words with other words that don’t make sense
  • Mixing up sounds within words
  • Speaking in entirely nonsensical language
  • Not recognizing that they’re having communication difficulties

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Aphasia Diagnosed?

If a patient presents symptoms consistent with aphasia, a doctor will conduct a diagnostic process focused on confirming (or ruling out) aphasia and identifying the cause of the symptoms.

Diagnostic steps may include:

  • Physical exam
  • Neurological exam. This exam will test neurological functions such as reflexes, strength, coordination, balance, sensory perception, etc.
  • Cardiovascular exam to check for evidence of a stroke
  • Imaging tests (magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT)) to look for evidence of damage to the brain
  • Tests and evaluations of language skills and comprehension

PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN FOR MORE INFORMATION.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Aphasia Treated?

In cases of aphasia where the brain damage is not extensive and symptoms are relatively mild, the condition may improve without treatment. In most cases, however, rehabilitative therapy is necessary. Rehabilitation usually improves symptoms, but patients rarely recover all of their language skills.

Rehabilitation is usually directed by a speech-language pathologist. Therapies may focus on re-learning language skills, but if those therapies are not successful, alternative communication skills may be explored. These approaches may include using visual methods of communication or using technological tools (tablets, smartphones, etc.) for communicating.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Does Aphasia Progress?

The communication difficulties of aphasia can lead to social isolation, which can, in turn, produce life-altering complications. Sufferers may have a hard time continuing with their jobs, and they may struggle with their daily routines and their relationships. Depression and anxiety are common complications, as well.

Primary progressive aphasia differs from other types of aphasia in that it’s caused by the ongoing degeneration of brain tissue. Symptoms get worse over time, and often other neurological symptoms develop, including problems with movement, thinking, and memory. Sufferers eventually need to be cared for, and life expectancy after diagnosis of PPA is 3-12 years.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Aphasia Prevented?

There’s no direct way to prevent aphasia, but because most cases are caused by stroke, measures to prevent strokes can also reduce the risk of aphasia.

Stroke risk can be decreased by:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Controlling high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Aphasia Caregiver Tips

Communicating with someone suffering from aphasia can be frustrating for both parties. To help your loved one (and yourself) to cope, keep these tips in mind:

  • Limit distractions. Provide a quiet, calm environment, and limit the number of people engaging in conversation with the sufferer. Speak slowly and simply.
  • Help your loved one to exercise their language skills. Don’t finish sentences for them, and involve them in conversations as much as possible.
  • Use nonverbal communication methods when necessary. Try using drawings, photos, and other visual aids.
  • Make sure your loved one understands you. Repeat yourself if necessary, and double-check to verify that you’re being understood.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Aphasia Brain Science

Scientists are working in many different areas in an effort to better understand aphasia and to develop more effective treatments for the disorder.

  • Medications. Using drug therapies to treat aphasia is a new approach. Researchers are working on medications that may help to repair the damage that causes aphasia by increasing blood flow to the brain. Other medications may boost the action of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, and those chemicals may help to diminish the symptoms of aphasia.
  • Imaging. Some researchers are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to get a look at how the brain processes language, both in normal brains and in brains suffering from aphasia. Increased knowledge of these processes could lead to new treatments.
  • Brain stimulation. Therapeutic techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) use magnetic fields or electrical current to temporarily disrupt normal brain activity. Some researchers suspect that these technologies might be able to help aphasia sufferers to improve their language abilities.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Aphasia Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Aphasia.  The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Aphasia, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Aphasia and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as Translation and Clinical Implementation of a Test of Language and Short-term Memory in Aphasia. (Clinical TALSA), Escitalopram and Language Intervention for Subacute Aphasia (ELISA)and Strategies to Accommodate Reading (STAR).

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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