The National Aphasia Association writes that between 25%-40% of stoke survivors suffer from aphasia. Ironically, although around 180,000 people acquire aphasia annually, most people have never heard of the condition. Aphasia is a language disorder commonly experienced by stoke survivors. Aphasia could also be caused by head injury and brain disease/tumor. Unfortunately, aphasia-induced communication problems affect activities of daily living (ADLs).
There is a considerable amount of similarity and overlap with the more moderate condition known as ‘dysphasia’. Dysphasia is the disturbance of generation of speech and comprehension of speech. The speech and language disorder is known internationally as ‘aphasia’.
Damage to the left side of the brain, where the language center is located, is the causative factor of the loss of the ability for language processing. The disorder affects the sufferers communicative abilities in different ways. Some people experience the deficits to a greater extent and range, and some to a lesser extent.
The three main categories of communication that are affected are: speaking, understanding the speech of others and, reading and writing. Not every person affected by aphasia will get every symptom since there are different types of aphasia.
Common Obstruction #1: Speaking
- difficulty speaking, resulting in slow, labored speech
- difficulty with speed, needing more time to respond
- difficulty with amount of words or phrases speaker can utter
- SODA errors in the words they use (word –Substitution, –Omission, –Distortion and –Addition)
- difficulties in retrieval from their internal dictionary
- use of nonsense words
Common Obstruction #2: Understanding Others
- difficulty understanding what other people say
- greater difficulty with long, complex sentences
- difficulty understanding until the sentence is repeated
Common Obstruction #3: Reading and Writing
- difficulty reading aloud
- difficulty understanding what they ready
- difficulty writing and spelling
How Can You Help?
When speaking with a stroke survivor, if there is a language processing disorder, use easy-to-understand language, short sentences, closed-ended questions, questions requiring yes/no responses, familiar words. Be ready to patiently repeat what you said. Using objects as props in the conversation might help you to communicate with each other. Gesticulating to each other is an option that works for some people.
Can Aphasia be Prevented?
There is no method that will definitely prevent aphasia, but it is recommended that people:
Avoid a stroke by choosing a healthy lifestyle including:
- Focusing on cardiovascular health by exercising and eating healthily
- Be aware of high blood pressure and treat if necessary
- Avoid tobacco and other similar materials
- Avoid drinking alcohol regularly, even small amounts can cause damage
- Avoid migraines by discovering and staying away from migraine triggers
- Don’t ignore stress, treat it
Avoid head injury by following safety guidelines including:
- Protecting the head from injury while doing sport or riding a bicycle, for example
- Prevent falls by having a safe living environment
- Don’t use a cellphone or text while driving
Adjusting to the Challenge
While sufferers of aphasia might show frustration with the speech challenges, it is important to remember that their intelligence has most likely not been affected. They should be spoken to with respect, and in a level tone unless they indicate that you should speak louder.
The fact that communication problems affect activities of daily living is challenging for the patient as well as family and friends. Each group needs to learn how to accept and deal with the situation. Speech therapy will begin as soon as possible after the stroke or injury, in an effort to make neuroplasticity work for the benefit of the patient. Even after the speech therapy ends, a persons condition may improve, possibly, as the person learns different skills and gains confidence.