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An Overview of Aphasia

Aphasia is a condition that makes it difficult for the sufferer to communicate. Aphasia affects oral communication, both speaking and comprehension, as well as written communication, both reading and writing. In this article, we will look at the causes, symptoms, and various types of aphasia.

Causes

The most common cause of aphasia is a stroke, meaning that it is an issue that affects older people far more often than it affects younger people. In fact, up to as many as 40% of people who have a stroke will suffer from aphasia afterwards.

While a stroke is the most common cause of aphasia, it can also be brought on in other ways. However, aphasia is only ever developed after the brain itself has been damaged. Other possible causes of aphasia include head trauma, brain tumours, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, neurological disorders, or infection.

Symptoms

There are two main types of aphasia: expressive and receptive. Expressive aphasia is where a person has difficulty expressing themselves to others. This can affect not only their ability to speak, but also their ability to get their message across in other ways, such as with gestures or by drawing. While attempting to communicate, people with expressive aphasia may forget the names of objects, people, or places that they are familiar with, may make a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes, and may use one word when they mean another.

As you would expect, receptive aphasia is essentially the opposite of this, with sufferers having difficulty understanding what others are saying to them. Receptive aphasia may also make it more difficult to understand pictures and gestures as well as words. With receptive aphasia, a person may not even realise that they are not comprehending what is being said or asked, and so may respond in a way that does not make sense.

The extent to which aphasia limits communication is considerably different from patient to patient, with some being only mildly affected, and others affected so severely that they can barely communicate. Some people may lose the ability to express themselves through words, but understand everyone else. Others may be able to speak well, but struggle to understand. The other main types of aphasia are outlined below.

Types of Aphasia

Global: this is when a patient can barely communicate at all in any way. All aspects of communication are impaired. It is often a temporary problem directly after the stroke or injury, but can be long term.

Anomic Aphasia: most people who have anomic aphasia can understand others well, and can speak well, but struggle to remember the words they need and end up speaking in a very roundabout way. For example, “Get in the car” could become “Get in the thing you drive to work in everyday”.

Fluent Aphasia: Someone suffering from fluent aphasia can speak more or less as they otherwise would, but their ability to understand others, read, and write can be impaired.

Non-fluents Aphasia: Also known as Broca’s aphasia, non-fluent aphasia is when a person has severely reduced speech, but can understand and read well. They can write better than they can speak, but their writing is also quite impaired.

Mixed Non-fluent Aphasia: Similar to the above, but a person’s ability to read and understand others is also quite limited.

Primary Progressive Aphasia: This is a rare, degenerative brain condition that leads to the gradual impairment of someone’s ability to communicate at all.