What is Aphasia?

June 2012 has been proclaimed by the US Congress to be Aphasia Awareness Month. Bearing that in mind, we wanted to share some facts and information about aphasia:

  • What is aphasia? Aphasia is a communication disorder that is acquired and that impairs a person’s ability to process language, to speak and understand others, and causes difficulty in reading and writing. Aphasia does not affect a person’s intelligence, it just affects their ability to communicate.
  • What causes aphasia? The most common cause is stroke. However, aphasia can also be caused by head injury, brain tumor(s), or other neurological causes.
  • How common is aphasia? It affects about one million Americans.
  • Who acquires aphasia? Although aphasia is most common in older people, it can occur in anyone of any age, race, nationality, or gender.
  • How do you communicate with a person with aphasia? Make sure the person has time to speak and do not finish their sentences for them, be aware of background noises and turn off televisions and radios whenever possible, be open to different means of communication, and confirm that you are communicating effectively and successfully. We also suggest visiting the Communication Dos & Don’ts page of the National Aphasia Association to learn more about communicating with someone with aphasia.
  • Are all cases of aphasia alike?No. There are many types of aphasia. For example, some people have difficulty speaking while others struggle to follow a conversation. For some, aphasia is fairly mild and is not noticeable right away, while, for others, aphasia can be very severe.  Here are a couple of forms of aphasia:
    • Global Aphasia – This is the most severe form of aphasia. It is applied to patients who can produce few recognizable words and understand little or no spoken language.  People with global aphasia can neither read nor write. This type of aphasia is often seen immediately after a stroke.
    • Broca’s Aphasia or “non-fluent aphasia” – With this form of aphasia, speech output is severely reduced. People with this form of aphasia may limit speech to short utterances of less than four words and use a limited vocabulary. A person with Broca’s Aphasia may understand speech relatively well and be able to read, but their writing may be limited.
    • Mixed non-fluent Aphasia – This is applied to patients who have sparse and effortful speech and it resembles severe Broca’s Aphasia. Unlike Broca’s Aphasia however, people with this form of aphasia remain limited in their understanding of speech and reading and writing is at an elementary level.
    • Wernicke’s Aphasia (‘fluent aphasia’) – This form of aphasia deals with the ability to grasp the meaning of spoken, however the ability to make speech is not always affected.

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) has several projects dealing with communication disabilities, including:

  • Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Enhancing the Functional Outcomes and Employment Outcomes of Individuals Who Experience a Stroke.  Project Number: H133B080031.
  • Systematic Study of the Effectiveness of AAC Intervention to Improve Conversation in Individuals with Degenerative Language Disorders. Project Number: H133G080162.

We conducted a search in our databases and found nearly 600 articles dealing with aphasia, including:

  • Tucker, Frances M., Edwards, Dorothy F., Matthews, Leslie K., Baum, Carolyn M., Connor, Lisa T. Modifying health outcome measures for people with aphasia. American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT), Volume 66(1), Pgs. 42-50. NARIC Accession Number: J62770.
  • Babbitt, Edna M., Heinermann, Allen W., Semik, Patrick, Cherney, Leora R. Psychometric properties of the communication confidence rating scale for aphasia (CCRSA): Phase 2. Aphasiology, Pgs. 1-9. NARIC Accession Number: J60182.
  • Cherney, Leora, R., Halper, Anita S., Kaye, Rosalind C. Computer-based script training for Aphasia: Emerging themes from post-treatment interviews. Journal of Communication Disorders, Volume 44(4), Pgs. 493-501. NARIC Accession Number: J61136.

To learn more and find groups in your area, please visit the National Aphasia Association.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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