Speech Therapy

Understanding Aphasia

March 31, 2022

Christina M. del Toro, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Midwestern University’s Speech-Language Pathology Program in Illinois

The family of Bruce Willis shared Wednesday that the popular actor has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which they report is impacting his cognitive abilities. According to the National Aphasia Association, about two million people in the United States currently have aphasia. So what is aphasia? And what are the next steps following a diagnosis?

Aphasia is a language disorder caused by a stroke, trauma, or disease that affects the left-hemisphere of the brain in which language and speech are processed. Aphasia caused by stroke or trauma leads to chronic impairments which do not worsen over time and can be improved by the brain’s natural healing, medication to improve brain function, and behavioral therapy with a speech-language pathologist. Aphasia caused by disease, termed Primary Progressive Aphasia, is a degenerative process in which language impairment is followed by memory impairment resulting in dementia.

Individuals with aphasia can have difficulties speaking, reading, writing, and/or understanding spoken language. There are several types of aphasia based on the location and severity of the stroke, trauma, or disease. All types of aphasia result in lifelong difficulties communicating which impact a person’s ability to participate in nearly every aspect of daily life. Participation in social roles and activities, personal relationships, employment, and mental health are all negatively affected by aphasia.

Speech and language therapy can benefit many individuals with aphasia and lead to improved communication. The first step is an assessment by a speech-language pathologist focused on identifying the severity and types of impairments, while also determining the daily communication needs of the individual and their goals for meaningful participation. Research has shown a minimum of two hours of treatment a week is needed in order to see improvements. The ultimate goal of treatment is to improve communication in order to increase quality of life.

The Speech-Language Institute at Midwestern University offers assessment and treatment for individuals with aphasia. Faculty with expertise in aphasia work with graduate student clinicians to support individuals with aphasia and their families as they navigate the challenges of this language impairment.

If you or someone you know is living with aphasia and in need of support please contact the Speech-Language Institute in Illinois at 630-743-4500 or in Arizona at 623-537-6000.

The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only and is not for use in diagnosing any condition. The information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment and does not establish a provider/patient relationship. Always consult your own physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions regarding any possible medical condition.

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