Aphasia Creates Language Barriers that Require Rehabilitation

Aphasia is a medical condition that can steal one of the most essential aspects of daily life, which is the ability to communicate. Someone with aphasia will lose their ability to express and understand both verbal and written language. Aphasia might not affect each person the same way because it depends on the location and severity of the brain damage. Aphasia is often accompanied with a more serious medical condition such as a brain tumor or stroke. There are a variety of symptoms associated with aphasia and it is important to know and understand them since it could result from a life-threatening situation.

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Symptoms of Aphasia

Aphasia will present itself in many ways but all of the symptoms relate to language and communication skills. Some of the more common symptoms include speaking in short or incomplete sentences, using sentences that do not make sense or speaking with unrecognizable words. Spelling errors, not comprehending conversation and interpreting figurative language as literal are also common in someone with this condition. The extent of the brain damage and the location of the brain affected will all come into play in regards to the severity of the symptoms. A person who is suffering from aphasia might be able to read a book correctly but not be able to form sentences so that other people can understand them.

Nonfluent, fluent and global are the three words that a doctor will use to describe the type of aphasia that has occurred. Nonfluent aphasia is when the left frontal of the brain is damaged near the language network. Nonfluent aphasia might also be called Broca aphasia and is can be very debilitating. Nonfluent aphasia is when people struggle to get the words out of their mouth, so the sentences will likely be very short. For example, someone with this type of aphasia might say “hungry” instead of “I am hungry” which is not a complete sentence. Although the sentences are not complete, it is usually pretty easy to understand and clarify what the person is trying to say. Nonfluent aphasia might also allow for some comprehension of what other people are saying, and they are aware of their own communication difficulties. There might also be a slight paralysis on the right side of the body that is diagnosed with this type of aphasia.

Fluent aphasia or Wernicke aphasia occurs as a result of damage to the middle-left side of the brain near the language network. Someone with this type will form long sentences that do not make sense or is difficult to understand. They might include words in the sentence that do not belong or make the sentence lengthier than it needs to be. Usually the person will not comprehend what is being spoken to them and they have little knowledge of their own impediment.

Global aphasia is a result of heavily damaged language networks in the brain and it pretty much includes all aspects of language. A person suffering from global aphasia will have severe handicaps and disabilities in the language and communication area. Expression and comprehension are both heavily damaged in a person who is suffering and it is often very noticeable. Global aphasia basically means that the condition involves all aspects of the brain on a large scale, which means that large disabilities are present.

Aphasia Causes

There are a lot of causes for aphasia but the most common cause is a result of having a stroke. A stroke is a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel within the brain and it can leave various aspects of the brain damaged. The brain damage occurs from the lack of oxygen getting to the brain during this medical event, and can lead to brain cell death or damage. Tumors, trauma, and head injuries can also cause the severe brain cell damage. Degenerative conditions or an infection might also be to blame for the brain cell death, especially if the disease progresses. A person suffering from a degenerative disease might hear the language difficulty referred to as primary progressive aphasia. Primary progressive aphasia is the term that is used to describe the language difficulties if they progress over time or are a gradual event due to another condition. Primary progressive aphasia might also cause dementia over time.

Quality-of-life problems are the most common complications for someone suffering from aphasia. This is due to the fact that we communicate with other people on a daily basis and use communication to express ourselves. Other complications arise from the lack of communication that someone with aphasia has and it can really impact every aspect of life. Day-to-day functions might be a challenge and relationships might also become difficult, especially with global aphasia. Working at a job will also become nearly impossible since communication is essential for almost every job. Relationship problems could arise from the language barrier, work performance might suffer and depression could also be a serious complication for some. It is important that you note the symptoms of aphasia because the sooner a confirmed diagnosis is made then the better the outcome.

Testing to Confirm Aphasia

The doctor will probably use an imaging test such as a computed tomography scan to confirm the diagnosis. Magnetic resonance imaging might be used to identify what is causing the aphasia and it provides quicker results for the doctor. The doctor will also use a variety of tests and observations which can access language skills and abilities. The doctor might ask you to name certain objects, engage in a normal conversation, follow simple instructions and answer questions relating to a book or something you heard. Repeating words and sentences, understanding and using words correctly, telling a story and reading or writing letters might also be something the doctor will have you do. The doctor might also observe you telling a joke or explaining a phrase and answering open-ended questions to see if you have any language barriers or trouble understanding.

Treatment for Aphasia

Once a confirmed diagnosis of aphasia is made, you can then move onto planning treatment with your doctor. If the damage to the brain is mild then language skills might be recovered without further treatment. Most people will undergo some level of language and speech therapy though to help refine their language skills and communication skills. Usually the language skill therapy takes a long time because it takes a while for communication skills to be taught. Significant progress can be made but it will probably not make the communication skills completely normal. The most effective speech therapy begins as soon as the injury to the language network of the brain occurs. Speech-language pathologists will use various activities to improve the communication skills. Naming objects is probably a simple task that you would start out with and then gradually progress into exercises such as explaining the purpose of the object. You will also have to be taught how to compensate for the communication barrier by using gestures or writing on a board. Using signs or writing what you mean is an effective way to help communicate with someone and it can help you regain your abilities to form sentences. People with aphasia will also use a group setting to try out their communication skills while being in a safe environment. Patients will work together to practice starting conversations and talking in turn with one another. This will help someone with aphasia progress and learn how to communicate with other people and can also raise self-esteem. Outings might also be used so that the affected person can participate in real-life situations with their disability. Going out to a restaurant or grocery store can put the rehabilitation into a real-life scenario. Going out into public is a great way to overcome the depression and anxiety a lot of people feel who have aphasia. Therapy is the most effective way that someone with aphasia can regain a lot of their communication skills and adjust to the barriers by using other tools.

Overall, someone with aphasia can live a happy and normal life if treatment is promptly given. Since aphasia is usually a sign of a stroke or more serious medical condition, the prognosis relies heavily on treating the underlying medical condition. Someone who thinks they are suffering from the symptoms of aphasia should seek medical attention immediately. Once the affected person begins treatment and speech therapy, they can expect to regain a good amount of their pre-injury communication skills. After speech therapy is completed, a person with aphasia should be expected to live a pretty normal daily life. The most important thing to remember about aphasia is that it can be caused by a serious medical condition and it can really be debilitating if left untreated.

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Jeanne Rose
Jeanne Rose lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been a freelance writer since 2010. She took Allied Health in vocational school where she earned her CNA/PCA, and worked in a hospital for 3 years. Jeanne enjoys writing about science, health, politics, business, and other topics as well.