Aphasia is a partial or total loss of one's ability to communicate. The disorder impairs oral and written expression as well as comprehension. Aphasia is a language disorder (affects the choice of words, fluidity and continuity of sentences, etc.) that may co-occur with a speech disorder (pronunciation, articulation, etc.). It is not a mental illness but rather a disorder that results from damage to certain portions of the brain. The various types of aphasia are generally caused by damage sustained to Broca's area or Wernicke's area, which are responsible for language and comprehension respectively.
Lesions on either of these areas of the brain can cause aphasia. These lesions are the result of:
- A cerebrovascular accident (CVA), also known as a stroke: interruption in the blood supply to the brain which damages the cells in the areas of the brain responsible for language.
- A brain tumour: uncontrollable multiplication of brain cells which in turn compress the cells in Broca's area and Wernicke's area.
- A head injury: impact involving the head that directly damages the cells responsible for expression.
There are 5 main types of aphasia, all of which are distinguished by communication disorders. They are Broca's aphasia, Wernicke's aphasia, conduction, mixed and global aphasia. The intensity and type of symptoms vary depending on the type of aphasia.
- Jargon: Creation or distortion of certain words.
- Missing words: Trouble finding words when communicating.
- Paraphrasia: Words improperly used in conversation or inversion of sounds in words.
- Comprehension problem: The patient hears well but is unable to understand and analyse speech.
- Reduction of speech: Fewer words are used to communicate because sentences (both written and spoken) are incomplete.
- Arthric disorder: Improper pronunciation of certain words.
|Symptoms||Types of aphasia|
|Broca's aphasia||Wernicke's aphasia||Conduction aphasia||Mixed aphasia||Global aphasia|
|Reduction of speech||++||+||+||++|
Aphasia is diagnosed by a speech-language therapist who will begin by listing the sufferer's symptoms. A general practitioner or a neurologist can also make the diagnosis based on the observed symptoms. Aphasia-related symptoms can be the result of other diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, for example. The physician will therefore evaluate the patient's general state of health.
Treating aphasia is a process that is slow and gradual. Treatment is carried out by a speech-language therapist who will recommend language and comprehension re-education techniques. The speech-language pathologist will also teach the patient the meaning of words, develop speech and will assign reading and writing exercises.
He will also help the family understand the disorder and promote healthy communication between group members. Below are a few practical tips to help develop clearer and more coherent communication.
- Clearly indicate when changing topic
- Tactfully correct language mistakes
- Encourage attempts at communicating
- Formulate questions that can be answered by "yes" or "no".
People who suffer from aphasia benefit tremendously from family support as the healing process is slow.