What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a language disorder caused by brain damage or disease. People affected by aphasia will find it difficult to understand people speaking or express themselves, or both. Their reading and writing may also be affected.

Causes of aphasia

The most common cause of aphasia in adults is a stroke, but anything that damages the brain’s language areas can cause aphasia, including a traumatic brain injury or brain tumour.

Types of Aphasia

Aphasia varies depending on which part of the brain has been damaged:

  • Expressive aphasia

Someone with expressive aphasia, also called Broca’s aphasia, loses fluent speech though the have an apparently normal understanding of language.  In their speech they often use important verbs and nouns to express themselves, but leave out small grammatical words, like an old telegram.  Naming is also impaired.

  • Receptive aphasia

A person with receptive aphasia, also called Wernicke’s aphasia, speak fluently but with lots of errors.  For example substituting words incorrectly or creating new words.  Understanding and naming are poor, as is reading and writing.

  • Other syndromes

There are many other types of aphasia, such as difficulties just with naming objects or with reading, but not understanding spoken words.

Diagnosing aphasia

If someone has had a brain injury and shows signs of language difficulties, they must be assessed by a specialist speech and language therapist.  The therapist should explain their diagnosis to the patient in a way they can understand, as well as the relatives.

Treatment programmes

Losing the ability to communicate can be devastating, however with specialist treatment, understanding and support, people with aphasia can still lead fulfilling lives.

After analysing the spoken and written language patterns, the therapist will develop a bespoke treatment programme to improve the underlying language difficulty.  The therapist will also work with the person to develop a range of communication strategies. This might include things like waving instead of saying hello.  Often treatment will take place in groups so that people with aphasia can get used to normal conversation and feel more confident in using their new strategies.

Advice for friends and family

Approaches that can help people communicate more effectively include:

  • avoid correcting the person’s speech or interrupting
  • allow them plenty of time to talk
  • minimise distractions
  • use short, uncomplicated sentences
  • check the message is understood, possibly through repetition
  • write down key words and clarify their meaning.

When speech and language therapy finishes

The end of speech therapy does not signal the end of recovery and many people report that language continues to improve for a long time.  The more the skills are used the easier they become.  For more information on aphasia, self-help groups and communication strategies, call the Speakability Helpline 080 8808 9572 or visit speakability.org.uk.

Head Injury UK: Brain Injury Claim Experts

At Head Injury UK our dedicated brain injury solicitors understand the many issues which affect someone suffering a brain injury and, importantly, how best to facilitate their treatment and rehabilitation.  If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury through someone else’s fault, contact Ian Shovlin or call us on 0800 073 0988 to see how we can help you.



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