Aphasia is a communication disorder whereby a person is unable to express or comprehend written or verbalized language effectively. It is primarily caused by damage to the language-dominant side of the brain usually on the left half for most people. There are five different kinds of aphasia including expressive or Broca’s aphasia (non-fluent), receptive or Wernicke’s aphasia (fluent), global aphasia, anomic aphasia, and primary progressive aphasia.
Aphasia robs the affected individual of their ability to communicate but this should not always be considered a life sentence since recovery is possible if attended to promptly. Damage to the affected area of the brain has several causes, the commonest being stroke (blockage or rupture of blood vessels in the brain) and progressive dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. Other causes include traumatic brain injury, severe infection in the brain (encephalitis), brain tumors, epilepsy, and migraine among others.
The most common type is Broca’s/ non-fluent/ expressive aphasia in which the individual cannot communicate in written or spoken form, but knows what they want to put across. Those with Wernicke’s/ fluent/ receptive aphasia can express themselves and hear what they are told, but cannot decipher what is being read or said to them. Anomic/ nominal/ amnesic aphasia presents as difficulty getting the appropriate vocabulary (usually nouns or verbs) to express themselves both in written and verbal forms. Global aphasia is the most severe form as the patient is unable to express themselves, understand speech, read or write. It usually occurs after a stroke causes extensive damage to the brain, but if attended to immediately the effects can be reversed. Primary progressive aphasia is a syndrome in which the ability to talk, read, write and understand language is gradually lost. It is caused by degenerative diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of aphasia often vary depending on the extent of the injury on brain tissue. They include speaking unusually slowly or hesitantly, speaking or jotting down insensible or unrecognizable phrases, taking a long while or not comprehending conversations at all, calling simple objects by incorrect names among other related symptoms. Diagnosis is made through several tests in which the type and severity will be determined by the examining doctor. Some of the aspects assessed include the ability to understand and respond to simple questions, the patient’s reflexes and strength, fluency in articulation, ability to follow directions or to describe the use of a simple object. Imaging tests on the brain such as M.R.I. are usually done to identify the cause of aphasia.
Treatment modalities are available today for most types of aphasia excluding the primary progressive aphasia, caused by degeneration of brain tissue which is irreversible. The best recovery is observed in patients who are attended to soon after the cause, usually a stroke, to limit brain damage. In some cases, patients recover spontaneously. However, most cases require language therapy to improve the ability to communicate effectively or learn sign language and sometimes use computers to share information.
We ought to get the word out there to our friends and family to raise awareness about the condition, reduce stigma towards patients with aphasia, or reach out and seek help if they or someone close to them is affected.