Aphasia is a language disorder caused by a stroke or trauma to the left-hemisphere of the brain. Individuals with aphasia can have difficulties speaking, reading, writing, or understanding spoken language. There are several types of aphasia based on the location of the stroke, types of language impairments, and severity.
While some people have more trouble speaking than understanding, others have more trouble understanding than speaking. Some people with aphasia can speak but do not produce words with meaning. Most individuals with aphasia have difficulty thinking of the words they want to say. They know what meaning or message they want to convey but are unable to find the correct words. They will often say words that have a similar meaning or sound similar to the word they wanted to say.
Typically, people with aphasia are aware of their difficulties communicating and will often try to correct their errors. Most people with aphasia also need more time to respond, because of the difficulty thinking of the word and/or difficulty saying the correct sounds in the word. Some people can use writing to help with their speaking or use reading to help with understanding other speakers. Others may benefit from using an assistive device such as an iPad to communicate.
Reading and writing may be difficult as well. A person with aphasia may have difficulty reading only certain types of words or may be able to read out loud but does not understand the meaning of the words. Writing may be affected by difficulty thinking of the word or knowing how to spell the word.
Any of these impairments will affect a person’s daily life and interactions with others. Some people are unable to return to work or school. It is easy for a person with aphasia to become isolated and feel disconnected from their friends, family, and community. It is important to maintain social interactions and find activities which are still enjoyable.
Speech and language therapy can benefit many individuals with aphasia and lead to improved communication. Assessment is focused on identifying the severity and types of impairments, while identifying the daily communication needs of the individual. Assessment typically involves naming pictures or objects, describing pictures or events, answering yes/no questions, following directions, reading, and writing.
Treatment is tailored to each person’s impairments and goals. Treatment may be focused on improving speaking through increasing a person’s ability to think of the word or the sounds in the word; improving a person’s production of phrases and sentences; improving production of grammatical sentences; or teaching a person to use an iPad or other device to type words or press picture buttons to communicate. Reading impairments may be treated by re-learning sound –letter relationships or definitions of words. Comprehension may be treated by re-learning definitions, relationships, and following directions. Writing skills may be improved by re-learning letter shapes, or sound-letter relationships. Length of treatment varies for each person and is based on their type and severity of impairments. Most individuals with aphasia will benefit from therapy which targets multiple impairments using a variety of methods. Treatment tasks and goals change over time as the individual with aphasia improves in their ability to communicate.
The Speech-Language Institute at Midwestern University offers assessment and treatment of impairments associated with aphasia. Professors with expertise in aphasia work with graduate student clinicians to assess and remediate communication disorders.
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