What is Aphasia?

~Richard Sgaglio

June is National Aphasia Awareness month. Although about 2 million people in the U.S. are living with Aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association, very few of us even know what the disorder is.

Basically, Aphasia is the loss of your ability to use language in some way. It can be caused by a medical condition such as stroke, traumatic brain injury or severe neurological illness.  About 40 percent of all stroke survivors have some form of Aphasia, yet many people are still unfamiliar with it.

Since language skills are so basic, Aphasia impacts all aspects of our lives. It affects communication, comprehension, reading and writing. Levels of severity can range from very mild to severe. While there are different types of aphasia, they usually fall into two different categories— “non-fluent” and “fluent.”

“Non-fluent” aphasia, sometimes called expressive Aphasia, causes difficulty in finding the right words. Speech is slow and the person is continuously searching for the correct words, making communicating difficult and frustrating. In “fluent aphasia,” there is comprehension difficulty, making it hard for the person to understand what others are saying to them. They may also speak in words that are jumbled or not make sense.

Treatment

Aphasia treatment can be customized to fit a patient’s specific needs. So, if a patient has fluent Aphasia, a speech-language pathologist can design a program that will help them with comprehension first. The pathologist may have the patient practice following simple directions. If a patient has non-fluent Aphasia, the speech pathologist may have the patient practice reciting things or naming objects from memory in an attempt to find words. They may also be asked to describe pictures in an attempt to help them regain function.

Practical Suggestions

What to do when you are facing Aphasia? Here are a few practical suggestions for anyone dealing with this disorder:

  • Carry a card explaining that you have aphasia and what aphasia is.
  • Carry identification and information on how to contact a family member or friend.
  • Carry paper and pen with you so you can write something down that you may not be able to say.
  • Use drawings, diagrams or photos to help communicate.
  • Use hand gestures and point to objects or items you are trying to explain.

How to Help Those Affected by Aphasia

Family member, friends and co-workers can help the affected by person by using the following tips when communicating with a person with Aphasia:

  • Simplify your sentences and slow your pace.
  • Keep conversations one-on-one.
  • Allow the person time to speak even when it is slow.
  • Don’t finish the person’s sentences.
  • Use gestures and body language when you aren’t understood.
  • Be patient and encouraging.

Local chapters of such organizations as the National Aphasia Association, the American Stroke Association, the American Heart Association and some hospitals offer support groups for people with Aphasia and others affected by the disorder. These groups provide people with a feeling of belonging, a place to meet others who are experiencing the same issues. You can also learn coping strategies.

As with many medical conditions, there are new therapies being developed and ground breaking research conducted. The road to recovery is often paved with high and low points and bumps in road. Above all, remain dedicated to your journey and hopeful for the future. Although there is no cure, a positive and hopeful attitude will go a long way to help you manage your Aphasia.

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