National Aphasia Awareness Month

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month. Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. Aphasia is always due to injury to the brain-most commonly from a stroke, particularly in older individuals. But brain injuries resulting in aphasia may also arise from head trauma, from brain tumors, or from infections.

Aphasia can be so severe as to make communication with the patient almost impossible, or it can be very mild. It may affect mainly a single aspect of language use, such as the ability to retrieve the names of objects, or the ability to put words together into sentences, or the ability to read. More commonly, however, multiple aspects of communication are impaired, while some channels remain accessible for a limited exchange of information.

It is the job of the professional to determine the amount of function available in each of the channels for the comprehension of language, and to assess the possibility that treatment might enhance the use of the channels that are available.

Global aphasia is the most severe form of aphasia and is applied to patients who can produce few recognizable words and understand little or no spoken language. Persons with Global Aphasia can neither read nor write. Global aphasia may often be seen immediately after the patient has suffered a stroke and it may rapidly improve if the damage has not been too extensive. However, with greater brain damage, severe and lasting disability may result.

Broca’s aphasia (‘non-fluent aphasia’) is a form of aphasia in which speech output is severely reduced and is limited mainly to short utterances of less than four words. Vocabulary access is limited and the formation of sounds by persons with Broca’s aphasia is often laborious and clumsy. The person may understand speech relatively well and be able to read but be limited in writing. Broca’s aphasia is often referred to as a ‘non-fluent aphasia’ because of the halting and effortful quality of speech.

Mixed non-fluent aphasia is applied to patients who have sparse and effortful speech, resembling severe Broca’s aphasia. However, unlike persons with Broca’s aphasia, they remain limited in their comprehension of speech and do not read or write beyond an elementary level.

Wernicke’s aphasia (‘fluent aphasia’) encompasses those whose ability to grasp the meaning of spoken words is chiefly impaired, while the ease of producing connected speech is not much affected. Therefore, Wernicke’s aphasia is referred to as a ‘fluent aphasia.’ However, speech is far from normal. Sentences do not hang together and irrelevant words intrude-sometimes to the point of jargon, in severe cases. Reading and writing are often severely impaired.

Anomic aphasia is applied to persons who are left with a persistent inability to supply the words for the very things they want to talk about-particularly the significant nouns and verbs. As a result, their speech, while fluent in grammatical form and output is full of vague verbiage and expressions of frustration. They understand speech well, and in most cases, read adequately. Difficulty finding words is as evident in writing as in speech.

Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) is a neurological syndrome in which language capabilities become slowly and progressively impaired. Unlike other forms of aphasia that result from stroke or brain injury, PPA is caused by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration. PPA results from deterioration of brain tissue important for speech and language. Although the first symptoms are problems with speech and language, other problems associated with the underlying disease, such as memory loss, often occur later.

In addition to the foregoing syndromes that are seen repeatedly by speech clinicians, there are many other possible combinations of deficits that do not exactly fit into these categories. Some of the components of a complex aphasia syndrome may also occur in isolation. This may be the case for disorders of reading (alexia) or disorders affecting both reading and writing (alexia and agraphia), following a stroke. Severe impairments of calculation often accompany aphasia, yet in some instances patients retain excellent calculation despite the loss of language.

Speech therapists are contracted by Decatur County Hospital to improve the quality of life for individuals experiencing problems with speaking, understanding, swallowing or hearing; including problems arising from aphasia. Speech therapists work to treat these disorders and minimize the isolating and frustrating impact they often have. Our goal in the speech therapy department is to return patients to their prior level of function and improve their quality of life.

For more information about speech therapy at Decatur County Hospital, contact the Rehabilitation Department at 641-446-2219, visit www.decaturcountyhospital.org, or follow us on Facebook @DecaturCountyHospitalIowa.