What is aphasia?

Aphasia has been in the news lately with Bruce Willis’ recent diagnosis. While our hearts are with him and his family as they navigate this complex, we’ve seen such an outpouring of awareness. For years, the aphasia community has tried to create awareness to initiate change for this unseen condition, and Bruce Will did this in just a few hours. As of right now, no one knows exactly the type of aphasia he has – yes, there are different types. We suspect that it’s not acquired aphasia, meaning it wasn’t caused by an event like a stroke or traumatic brain injury. So, what is aphasia, and how can it impact your life?

The definition of aphasia

Aphasia impairs a person’s language, affecting their production and comprehension of speech, as well as their ability to read and write. Acquired aphasia can be caused by a stroke, head trauma, brain tumors, or an infection. Those with aphasia may experience different levels of difficulty ranging from mild to severe.

It’s important to know that aphasia causes loss of language, NOT intellect.

A person with aphasia is just as smart as they’ve always been. It’s just that those pathways that were once there to produce speech are no longer there due to the damaged area of the brain. However, with speech practice and repetitiveness, those pathways can be rerouted to produce speech again.

For instance, it may only impact a single aspect of language such as the ability to retrieve the names of objects or the ability to write a complete sentence. There are various different tests that can be done to determine the severity level of someone with aphasia. One popular one is the Western Aphasia Battery Test (WAB) which assesses the deficits left by aphasia. A speech pathologist can issue this test to determine the best path forward to recovery.

What are the different types?

  • Global: Global aphasia is the most severe type of aphasia. Those with global aphasia find it hard to produce words and understand little to no spoken language. It’s also unlikely that they can read or write. This type of aphasia is often seen after a stroke and can rapidly improve if the brain damage isn’t too severe.
  • Broca’s: Broca’s aphasia severely reduces speech output and is limited to only a few words at a time. Having this type of aphasia can limit a person’s access to vocabulary, and the formation of sounds can come across as a bit clumsy. It’s often referred to as “non-fluent” aphasia as it affects the quality of a person’s speech.
  • Wernicke’s: A person with Wernicke’s aphasia or “fluent aphasia” has trouble grasping the meaning of spoken words, while the ease of producing speech is not much affected. However, the speech produced is not necessarily normal. Sentences may come across as disjointed and may sound like jargon. The ability to read and write is often severely impaired.
  • Primary Progressive: Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) is a neurological syndrome in which language becomes slowly impaired. This type of aphasia is not like the ones previously mentioned that are acquired by a stroke or TBI; it’s closely related to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. PPA results from a deterioration of the brain tissue in the area of the brain used to produce speech and language.
  • Anomic: Those with anomic aphasia have trouble finding the words they specifically want to talk about – especially as it relates to nouns and verbs. As a result, their speech often comes out as vague phrases of frustration. They understand speech well, and most can read without much difficulty. However, they have difficulty finding the right words when right, just as when trying to speak.
  • Mixed-Non-fluent: A person with mixed-non-fluent aphasia has sparse speech, closely resembling Broca’s aphasia. Unlike those with Broca’s, this type of aphasia can limit comprehension of speech, and most cannot read or write above an elementary level.

We hope we’ve been able to help you understand the definition of aphasia and how it can impact a person’s daily life. If you have any further questions, please feel free to email us at info@aphasiareaders.com. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news from Aphasia Readers! If you haven't picked up your first Aphasia Readers: Level 1 book, order your copy HERE!

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