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Aphasia

After a stroke it is very common to have communication problems. This condition known as aphasia can affect your ability to find the right words, to understand what others are saying and/or reading and writing.

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What is aphasia?

If you have aphasia you may have difficulty in expressing yourself when speaking, trouble understanding speech, and difficulty with reading and writing. Aphasia is not a disease, but a symptom of brain damage. It is most commonly seen in adults who have suffered a stroke.

No two people experience aphasia the same way. The exact type will depend on what part of the brain is injured by the stroke. Generally, aphasia can be divided into four broad categories:

  1. Expressive aphasia. You know what you want to say, but cannot find the words you need.
  2. Receptive aphasia. You hear someone talking or see the printed page but cannot make sense of the words
  3. People with anomic or amnesia aphasia, the least severe form of aphasia, have difficulty in using the right names for objects, people, places, or events.
  4. Global aphasia is the most severe, caused by widespread damage to the language areas of the brain. Stroke survivors with global aphasia cannot speak or understand speech, nor can they read or write.

Can aphasia be treated?

A full recovery from aphasia is possible. Speech therapy is the most common treatment for aphasia. There are a variety of specific speech therapy exercises and techniques. Other types of therapy have also proven effective for some stroke survivors, including:

  • Melodic intonation therapy which allows stroke survivors to sing words they cannot speak
  • Art therapy
  • Visual speech perception therapy focuses on associating pictures with words.
  • Constraint-induced language therapy involves creating a scenario in which spoken verbal communication is the only available option, and other types of communication, such as visual cues from body language, are not possible.
  • Group therapy and support groups
  • Some prescription medication can aid in the recovery of aphasia

Practice at home will support professional speech therapy. Some activities to support aphasia recovery include:

  • Play word-based games, such as board games, cards and crossword puzzles.
  • Cook a new recipe and read the ingredients.
  • Practice writing a shopping list or greeting cards to loved ones.
  • Read aloud or sing.
  • Go out to eat, order off a menu and calculate the tip.

Tips for communicating with aphasia

If you have aphasia, here are some tips for communicating with others:

  • Use props to make conversation easier (photos, maps).
  • Draw or write things down on paper.
  • Stay calm. Take one idea at a time.
  • Show people what works best for you.
  • Take your time. Make phone calls or try talking only when you have plenty of time.
  • Create a communication book that includes words, pictures and symbols that are helpful.
  • Use the Internet to connect to people via email or to create a personal Web page.
  • Carry and show others a card or paper explaining what aphasia is and that you have it. Keep it in your purse or wallet.

Tips for communicating to survivors with aphasia

  • Use props to make conversation easier (photos, maps).
  • Draw or write things down on paper.
  • Be patient. Take one idea at a time.
  • Speak simply, clearly and slowly.
  • Be sure the person with aphasia understood you.
  • Treat the person with aphasia as an intelligent adult; aphasia does not typically affect thinking skills.
  • Try different ways to get your message across.

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