By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Aphasia is a condition caused by damage to certain areas of the brain that are involved in the processing of language. Damage to brain regions that control the ability to speak, write, understand and read may be affected. An individuals with aphasia may therefore have difficulty understanding instructions or making sense of what someone is saying during conversation, for example.
Common causes of aphasia are stroke and severe head injury, which give rise to sudden and severe symptoms. In the case of other causes such as a brain tumor, aphasia symptoms may take a longer time to develop. This gradual onset of the symptoms is also seen in people with progressive neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The symptoms of aphasia vary depending on which form of the condition as person has. Some examples of the symptoms seen with different types of aphasia include:
- The speech is laboured and slow because words are difficult to produce
- The sentences are usually basic, with little use of grammar or structure. For example, a person may say “want…coffee…black.”
- Comprehension is usually retained and those who regain their ability to speak often describe knowing what they wanted to say but simply being unable to do so
- In extreme cases, a patient may only be able to produce one word
- Weakness or paralysis on the right side the body
- Individuals are often aware of their impaired communication, which can lead to their intense frustration
- Speech is preserved but the use of language is incorrect and sentences usually rapid and long-winded. The meaning of the spoken sentences are vague and unclear with words that do not make sense inserted into sentences.
- Commonly, a word may be substituted for another such as “televsion” for “telephone”
- Poor comprehension of what others are saying
- Lack of awareness that communication is impaired which can cause frustration on not being understood
- Difficulty solving simple sums
This is a severe form of aphasia caused by extensive damage to different language networks in the brain. All modes of communication may be affected including reading, writing, speaking and comprehending speech. Individuals may be mute or use repetitive vocalization of simple words such as expletives.
Primary progressive aphasia (PPA)
This is a form of frontotemporal degeneration. Symptoms worsen gradually, with individuals eventually becoming mute and unable to comprehend written or spoken language.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Nov 13, 2014