Aphasia: The Loss Of Speech
We’ve all stopped in the middle of a sentence searching for a word; said “proctor” when we meant “doctor”; repeated “She sells sea shells on the seashore” till the words got all jumbled up and the sentence became completely garbled. Now imagine if this became a daily reality – a scenario where the part of your brain that handles language stopped functioning properly. Aphasia is a neurological condition where people find it difficult to use language correctly because the part of their brain that processes language has been damaged. People who have aphasia may have difficulty in speaking, reading, writing, understanding, or repeating language.
The areas of our brain involved in processing language are the Wernicke area (part of the left temporal lobe), the Broca area (part of the left frontal lobe), the lower back part of the parietal lobe, and the connections between these areas. Damage to any part of these areas can cause problems in understanding and using language.
The Many Forms Of Speechlessness
Aphasia can manifest in many forms. The two most common types of aphasia are Wernicke aphasia and Broca aphasia.1
- Wernicke aphasia: When the Wernicke area of the brain is damaged, people have difficulty understanding language, say the meaning of spoken or written words. They may speak fluently, with a natural rhythm, but the sentences might come out as confused nonsensical strings of words. For example, in response to the question, “How are you?” they might say something like, “So, white river in abarta bobb my table set.” But they don’t realize they’re not making sense and tend to get frustrated when people fail to understand them. They may also find it difficult to read words. This is also called receptive aphasia.
- Broca aphasia: When the Broca area is damaged, people may understand the meaning of words and know what they want to say. But they may find it difficult to find the right words to say something. Their words may come out slowly and with some effort. For instance, instead of saying, “There are two glasses on the table.” They might say, “Glass…uh glass… two table.” They may also find it difficult to write words. This is also called expressive aphasia.
- Anomic aphasia: People with anomic aphasia are unable to remember or say the names of objects. They may speak fluently but say what they mean in a roundabout way. For instance, instead of “pen” they may say “thing you write with.”
- Conduction aphasia: People with conduction aphasia find it difficult to repeat words or phrases, though they can understand them and speak fluently otherwise.
- Global aphasia: People with global aphasia may lose almost all ability to write, speak, or understand language. They may find it difficult to understand even simple words and sentences and may be unable to say even a few words. They may also repeat the same word or phrase over and over again. This happens when the left temporal and frontal lobes of the brain are damaged. Interestingly, people with global aphasia may sometimes be able to utter expletives because the right side of the brain which is associated more with emotions is undamaged.
Most people with aphasia have more than one type of aphasia, though one form may be more predominant. Aphasia can also involve only the loss of the ability to understand written words (alexia).2
Causes Of Aphasia
Common causes of aphasia include stroke, brain tumors, serious head injuries, and progressive neurological conditions. Stroke is thought to be the most typical cause of aphasia, with one in three people experiencing some degree of aphasia after a stroke.3
Aphasia can affect people of all ages, including children. However, it is more prevalent in people over 65 years, as stroke and common progressive neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease tend to be more common among older adults.4
People who suffer from aphasia due to a progressive neurological condition may find that their condition worsens with time because the damage to their brain is ongoing. However, in other cases, speech and language therapy can help people with aphasia recover their ability to communicate effectively to varying degrees. The cause and extent of the brain injury, the area of the brain that is damaged, and the age and health of the person may all influence the degree of improvement. People with aphasia may also find that participating in book clubs or art and drama clubs can help improve their confidence and self-esteem as well as their communication skills.5