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Aphasia is a disease that impacts a person's ability to communicate normally, making it difficult for them to speak, write, and understand verbal and written language.

As the disease progresses, it can become frustrating to the affected person, as well as their family and friends. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and progression of aphasia can help everyone cope with the changes as they develop.

Causes

The most common cause of aphasia is stroke — it is a side effect of 25 to 40 percent of cases. Another common cause is a brain injury that affects the part of the brain dealing with language. Brain tumors, brain infections, and dementia can also lead to the condition.

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Types of Aphasia

There are many types of aphasia, ranging from mild to severe.

  • Expressive aphasia is when a person knows what they are trying to convey, but cannot communicate effectively.
  • Receptive aphasia means the person can still hear the sounds and read print but loses the ability to understand the message.
  • People with anomic aphasia struggle to find the right words.
  • Global aphasia is the most severe form and is common immediately after a stroke. The person cannot understand oral or written words and has a difficult time reading or writing.
  • Primary progressive aphasia is very rare; over time, the person loses their ability to read, write, and understand language.
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Symptoms

The three most common symptoms of aphasia are trouble speaking, struggling to find the correct words, and using the wrong words. People suffering from aphasia have a particularly hard time when they are tired or in loud spaces. While aphasia doesn’t affect the ability to think, it creates difficulty when understanding oral or written communication.

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Type of Doctors

If you aren’t sure what medical provider to contact, visiting your family doctor may be a great place to start. If the symptoms you are experiencing are believed to be aphasia, they can refer you to a specialist. The correct specialist for aphasia is a neurologist. The exact type of neurologist may depend on your age or condition; for example, a pediatric neurologist is a brain specialist for children.

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Preparing for Appointment

Aphasia often develops due to an emergency, which doesn’t allow patients to prepare ahead of time. However, if you're going to the doctor for symptoms of aphasia or for follow up appointments, it’s recommended to take a companion with you. Prepare a list of questions you would like answered during your visit to ensure each one will get addressed. Be ready to answer questions the medical provider may ask. Have you noticed changes in the way your jaw moves? Do you have changes in your inability to read, write sentences, or spell words?

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Diagnosis

Most commonly there is an aphasia diagnosis when treating a stroke, brain injury, or brain tumor. The doctor will use neurological tests such as asking common knowledge questions and commands. For example, the medical provider may ask you to name objects, use specific words in a sentence, and repeat words or phrases. These tests allow the doctor to diagnose aphasia and determine the form and severity of aphasia.

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Treatment: Speech and Language Rehabilitation

Beginning speech and language rehabilitation shortly after a brain injury are most effective in restoring language ability. Speech and language rehabilitation is a slow process, but you can make significant process if not a full recovery. During speech and language rehabilitation, the patient may work in groups to practice initiating conversations and clarifying misunderstandings or use computers to relearn the pronunciation and meaning of words. Speech and language rehabilitation also teaches how to find alternatives for communicating with this condition.

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Treatment: Medicine

No evidence proves medicine can help with aphasia, but there are current studies underway that show promise. These medicines improve the blood flow to the brain, which will hopefully speed recovery and replace any chemicals missing in the brain.

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Complications

Learning to cope with aphasia can affect how a person feels internally and interacts with others. In many cases, people suffering from aphasia isolate themselves because they get frustrated easily when trying to communicate with themselves or others. Anxiety can develop because people get anxious when they know they will have to communicate with others, either one-on-one or in a large group setting. Depression is also a common condition that can form when diagnosed with aphasia. If you’re concern about someone’s well being who has aphasia, create a safe environment for them to discuss frustrations with a doctor or therapist.

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Family Support

When a drastic event, such as aphasia, happens to a close family or friend it can be tough. Life changes, and it can be challenging to communicate with them. However, there are plenty of resources out there to help ease this change. There are a plethora of support groups to join such as the National Aphasia Association, which is a safe place to learn how others cope with the same struggles you are facing. Other tips include talking slower, avoiding big words, talking in one-on-one conversations, eliminating background noise, and creating a book of words or pictures to assist when you aren’t understood.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.