What is Aphasia? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment 

When most people hear about someone losing their ability to speak, they might first think that person has had a stroke. But there are other medical conditions that can rob someone of their speech or make it increasingly difficult to talk. One of those is aphasia. This cognitive impairment has a few different causes and can present itself in different ways. Here are some of the basic facts about aphasia and how it affects people. 

What is aphasia? Aphasia occurs when the parts of the brain that handle producing, processing and understanding speech are damaged because of something like a stroke or are disrupted because of another medical condition. There are different types of aphasia, depending on where the brain damage is located, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Aphasia affects how people speak, how they understand other people talking to them and even how they read or write words. For example, someone may want to ask for a glass of water but can’t seem to find the words. Or if they do ask, their speech might be garbled or come out in fragments.  

About two million people in the United States are currently diagnosed with aphasia, and about 180,000 new cases are expected to be treated this year.  

What causes aphasia? There is no one cause for the onset of aphasia. Because there are different types and people can develop this disorder in different ways. The severity level of speech loss or confusion can differ, too, depending on the extent of damage to the speech centers in the brain. It is most common for aphasia to develop suddenly if someone suffers a stroke or a head injury, according to the Mayo Clinic. In cases where someone suffers a concussion or has a severe migraine, aphasia can be temporary. But aphasia can also develop in stages over time if someone has a brain tumor or a degenerative disease that causes permanent brain damage.  

Symptoms of aphasia. These symptoms can occur all at once, or develop gradually, depending on the cause: 

  • A person begins speaking in very short or incomplete sentences 
  • They may substitute words or sounds for others that don’t make sense 
  • Their speech may be garbled 
  • A person may seem to be struggling more often to find the right words to use 
  • A person may not understand another person’s words, or be able to participate in conversations 
  • They may have a hard time reading 
  • Their writing, typing or even texting may be affected 

Treatment for aphasia. Once a person is diagnosed with aphasia, their treatment depends on the type of aphasia they have and what specific areas of the brain are impacted. There is not an immediate cure. If aphasia is brought on by a head injury like a concussion or a seizure, the symptoms can be temporary and in many cases the brain will heal itself. If it develops because of a stroke or degenerative condition, aphasia can be long-lasting. In these cases, health care providers will often recommend speech therapy and medications.  

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