Monday, June 14, 2010


June 2010 is National Aphasia Awareness Month [a pha sia (uh-fay’-zhuh)]. In researching Aphasia, all the following information came from The National Aphasia Association’s website which is presented in question and answer format.

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person's ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence. Aphasia impairs the ability to speak and understand others, and most people with aphasia experience difficulty reading and writing.

What Causes Aphasia?

The most common cause of aphasia is stroke (about 25-40% of stroke survivors acquire aphasia). It can also result from head injury, brain tumor or other neurological causes.

How Common is Aphasia?

Aphasia affects about one million Americans -or 1 in 250 people- and is more common than Parkinson's Disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. More than 100,000 Americans acquire the disorder each year. However, most people have never heard of it.

Who Acquires Aphasia?

While aphasia is most common among older people, it can occur in people of all ages, races, nationalities and gender.

Can a Person Have Aphasia Without Having a Physical Disability?

Yes, but many people with aphasia also have weakness or paralysis of their right leg and right arm. When a person acquires aphasia it is usually due to damage on the left side of the brain, which controls movements on the right side of the body.

Can People Who Have Aphasia Return to Their Jobs?

Sometimes, since most jobs require speech and language skills, aphasia can make some types of work difficult. Individuals with mild or even moderate aphasia are sometimes able to work, but they may have to change jobs.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Aphasia?

If the symptoms of aphasia last longer than two or three months after a stroke, a complete recovery is unlikely. However, it is important to note that some people continue to improve over a period of years and even decades. Improvement is a slow process that usually involves both helping the individual and family understand the nature of aphasia and learning compensatory strategies for communicating.

How Do You Communicate With a Person With Aphasia?

*Give the person with aphasia time to speak and do not finish the person's sentences unless asked.

*Be sensitive to background noise and turn off competing sounds such as radios or TVs where possible.

*Be open to means of communicating other than speech, eg., use drawing, gesturing.

*Confirm that you are communicating successfully.

*Make sure you have the person's attention before communicating.

*During conversation, minimize or eliminate background noise (such as television, radio, other people) as much as possible.

*Keep communication simple but adult. Simplify your own sentence structure and reduce your own rate of speech. You don't need to speak louder than normal but do emphasize key words. Don't talk down to the person with aphasia.

*Encourage and use other modes of communication (writing, drawing, yes/no responses, choices, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions) in addition to speech.

*Give them time to talk and let them have a reasonable amount of time to respond. Avoid speaking for the person with aphasia except when necessary and ask permission before doing so.

*Praise all attempts to speak; make speaking a pleasant experience and provide stimulating conversation. Downplay errors and avoid frequent criticisms/corrections. Avoid insisting that each word be produced perfectly.

*Augment speech with gesture and visual aids whenever possible. Repeat a statement when necessary.

*Encourage them to be as independent as possible. Avoid being overprotective.
*Whenever possible continue normal activities (such as dinner with family, company, going out). Do not shield people with aphasia from family or friends or ignore them in a group conversation. Rather, try to involve them in family decision-making as much as possible. Keep them informed of events but avoid burdening them with day to day details.

Does Aphasia Affect a Person's Intelligence?

No, a person with aphasia may have difficulty retrieving words and names, but the person's intelligence is basically intact. Aphasia is not like Alzheimer's disease; for people with aphasia it is the ability to access ideas and thoughts through language - not the ideas and thoughts themselves- that is disrupted. But because people with aphasia have difficulty communicating, others often mistakenly assume they are mentally ill or have mental retardation.

Are All Cases of Aphasia Alike?

No. There are many types of aphasia. Some people have difficulty speaking while others may struggle to follow a conversation. In some people, aphasia is fairly mild and you might not notice it right away. In other cases, it can be very severe, affecting speaking, writing, reading, and listening. While specific symptoms can vary greatly, what all people with aphasia have in common are difficulties in communicating.