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Aphasia refers to the inability or difficulty understanding spoken or written words and/or expressing one's thoughts and emotions.


What is Aphasia?

Aphasia refers to the inability or difficulty understanding spoken or written words and/or expressing one's thoughts and emotions. Individuals with aphasia may also have trouble reading, writing or using gestures to communicate. Aphasia is not a disease but results from damage to the brain.

What are the common causes?

Aphasia occurs when there is injury to one or some parts of the brain that control language processing. Stroke is a common cause of aphasia. However, other brain injuries arising from accidents, tumour and infections may also result in aphasia.

What are the signs and symptoms?

There is no visual sign to identify a person with aphasia, unless another person starts to talk to him or asks him to perform some tasks. No two people with aphasia are the same, as they all have different presenting symptoms. Some individuals with aphasia may not have any memory and thought processing difficulties, while others with aphasia will show deficits in memory and thought processing.

A person with aphasia may exhibit one or many of the following communication issues:

  • Expressing the words for everyday items (e.g. spoon, soap, bus, train)
  • Answering simple and complex questions (e.g. “What is the day today?” “Why are you in the hospital?”)
  • Following simple and complex instruction (e.g. “Raise your arms.” “Put the pen inside the case and turn the book to page 5.”)
  • Understanding and joining in a group conversation
  • Understanding hidden meaning in messages (e.g. jokes, sarcasm, idiomatic expressions)
  • Reading comprehension (e.g. road signs or the menu)
  • Reading aloud
  • Writing

Someone with aphasia may also exhibit the following communication patterns in their attempts to participate in verbal interactions:

1. Talking around a word

For example:

  • A person with Aphasia may say: “I want…this thing that I can…drink water with” instead of saying “I want a cup”.

2. Producing only key words in a statement that it sounds “broken”

For example:

  • A person with Aphasia may say: “Mother…cook…lunch…kitchen” instead of “The mother is cooking lunch in the kitchen”.

3. Using the wrong word that sounds like the target word

For example:

  • A person with Aphasia may say: “cat” for “cup”.

4. Using the wrong word that bears similarity in meaning with the target word

For example:

  • A person with Aphasia may say: “spoon” for “fork” as both are eating utensils

What are the risk factors?

Stroke is a major risk factor of aphasia. The risk factors of stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Previous mini-stroke (also known as transient ischemic attack, TIA)
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease

What types of treatment are available?

There is no medicine or surgery to treat aphasia. Some patients with aphasia may recover spontaneously without treatment. This may happen when the brain heals naturally, which mostly occur months immediately after the brain damage.

For most people with aphasia, speech therapy is essential in improving communication. The objectives of speech therapy are:

  • To make the most of retained language abilities
  • To find new ways of communication to compensate for lost language functions

In order to achieve therapy goals, the speech therapist may teach the patient specific strategies tailored to the patient’s individual needs. Picture cards/ boards and reading exercises may be used to complement learning. Family members play a major role in success of any speech and language intervention programs.

Family, friends or carers may try the strategies listed below to encourage effective communication outside the clinical setting. These techniques are:

  • Make sure that the person is aware that you are speaking to him
  • Make appropriate eye contact
  • Give the person enough time to respond to your question
  • Give simple instructions
  • Repeat your statement clearly and slowly if it appears that you have not been understood
  • Use simple and concrete words (e.g., use “eat” instead of “consume”)
  • Incorporate appropriate non-verbal methods like gestures, facial expressions to supplement your verbal communications

Aphasia may cause frustration and anxiety to both the patient and their loved ones. To minimize these, family members may consider the following when communicating with the person with aphasia:

  • As someone with aphasia is not hard of hearing, refrain from shouting at the person
  • Do not ignore the person with aphasia in a group conversation
  • Refrain from restricting the person’s social activity; a person with aphasia need not be restrained at home
  • Refrain from finishing the person’s sentences when he seems to be groping for the right word
  • Refrain from speaking to the person as if he/ she is a child

What can I do to help myself?

As stroke is one of the main risk factors for developing aphasia, taking steps to prevent a stroke will in turn help reduce the risk of developing aphasia. It is recommended to:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Limit dietary salt and fat
  • Stop smoking
  • If you drink, do so in moderation
  • Maintain an healthy weight
  • Monitor and control your blood pressure
  • Keep existing conditions, such as diatetes and high cholesterol, under control

- Last updated 1 Jul 2011,5:57 pm

The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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