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Aphasia

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a language disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. For most people, these are parts of the left side of the brain.

Aphasia usually occurs suddenly, often as the result of a stroke or head injury. However, aphasia may also develop slowly, as in the case of a brain tumor. Aphasia impairs both the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Aphasia may co-occur with speech disorders such as dysarthria or apraxia of speech, which also result from brain damage.

What Causes Aphasia?

Aphasia is caused by damage to one or more of the language areas of the brain. Often, the cause of the brain injury is a stroke. A stroke occurs when, for some reason, blood is unable to reach a part of the brain. Brain cells die when they do not receive their normal supply of blood, which carries oxygen and important nutrients. Other causes of brain injury are severe blows to the head, brain tumors, brain infections, and other conditions of the brain.

Types of Aphasia

There are three main types of aphasia:

  • Broca's aphasia
    • Individuals with Broca's aphasia have damage to the frontal lobe of the brain. These individuals frequently speak in short, meaningful phrases that are produced with great effort.
    • Broca's aphasia is thus characterized as a nonfluent aphasia. Affected people often omit small words such as "is," "and," and "the." For example, a person with Broca's aphasia may say, "Walk dog" meaning, "I will take the dog for a walk." The same sentence could also mean "You take the dog for a walk," or "The dog walked out of the yard," depending on the circumstances. Individuals with Broca's aphasia are able to understand the speech of others to varying degrees. Because of this, they are often aware of their difficulties and can become easily frustrated by their speaking problems.
    • Individuals with Broca's aphasia often have right-sided weakness or paralysis of the arm and leg because the frontal lobe is also important for body movement.
  • Wernicke's aphasia
    • Individuals with Wernicke's aphasia may speak in long sentences that have no meaning, add unnecessary words, and even create new "words."
    • Individuals with Wernicke's aphasia usually have great difficulty understanding speech and are therefore often unaware of their mistakes. These individuals usually have no body weakness because their brain injury is not near the parts of the brain that control movement.
  • Global aphasia
    • Global aphasia, results from damage to extensive portions of the language areas of the brain.
    • Individuals with global aphasia have severe communication difficulties and may be extremely limited in their ability to speak or comprehend language.

How is Aphasia treated?

In some instances an individual will completely recover from aphasia without treatment. When treatment is necessary, the most common treatment is therapy designed to improve an individual's ability to communicate by helping the person to use remaining abilities, to restore language abilities as much as possible, to compensate for language problems, and to learn other methods of communicating.

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