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Living with Aphasia

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Aphasia means loss of speech. Stroke is one of the common causes. Stroke occurs when the flow of blood, which carries oxygen and other nutrients to the brain, is blocked and brain cells begin to die.

Aphasia typically occurs when certain areas of the left side of the brain are damaged. Aphasia caused by a stroke is generally sudden. It can affect your ability to speak and to understand speech, and your ability to read and write. . Some people who have aphasia may also be paralyzed or partially paralyzed, often on the right side of the body.

The type of aphasia that affects your ability to speak is called “expressive.” When expressive aphasia is mild, you may have difficulty finding the right word sometimes, although you’re able to get your meaning across without much problem. When this kind of aphasia is severe, you may speak a kind of gibberish, using words that aren’t real words and sentences that are nearly impossible to understand.

Sometimes, people with expressive aphasia are able to think and use their minds the same as they always did, even though they can’t express themselves. But others lose the ability to use words even in their own thinking.

 

How is aphasia treated?

 

In some cases, aphasia disappears within hours or days after the stroke occurs, as blood flow to the brain is restored. For most people, however, it’s a more difficult experience. Often, there’s a partial recovery soon after the stroke. But even when that occurs, a full recovery is not guaranteed. Most people who don’t recover from aphasia within hours or days will have some sort of aphasia throughout their lives.

Speech and language therapy is a large part of the aphasia recovery process. Music therapy can also be extremely helpful to some people. Typically, improvements can continue for up two about two years. The extent of the recovery depends on the location of the damage, the area of the brain that was damaged and the age and health of the person.

 

What family members can do to reduce the isolation of aphasia

 

It’s important to remember that your loved one who has aphasia is probably feeling lonely, isolated and frustrated. A neurologist named Oliver Sacks wrote an article in The New Yorker last fall about a woman named Pat, an active, intelligent person who had a stroke that paralyzed the right side of her body and left her with aphasia. Pat could hardly speak at all, and she seemed to have difficulty understanding the speech of others.

As soon as possible after the stroke, Pat’s grown daughters began taking her to have her hair done, to have manicures, to eat in restaurants, to visit their apartments. In other words, they made sure to get her out into the world doing the things she had always enjoyed. She also had therapy with an accomplished speech therapist.

Pat never did fully recover her ability to speak, but she did develop a strong capacity to express herself through gestures, expressions and, sometimes, through songs. Her daughters feel that she’s happy and very engaged in the world, even though her body is still paralyzed on the right side and she still is unable to speak very well.

Family members and other loved ones can play a crucial role in the recovery of a person with aphasia, but it’s not always easy to know how to help. Here are some guidelines

  • Use simple, uncomplicated sentences, but remember that you’re talking to an adult.
  • Repeat the most important words, if necessary, or write them down, if that’s helpful.
  • Include your loved one in conversations, and encourage any kind of communication—gestures, facial expressions, etc.
  • Don’t correct your loved one—it doesn’t help.
  • Don’t rush your loved one.
  • Consider joining a support group, such as a stroke club.

Dr. Sacks explains in the New Yorker article that sometimes people with aphasia develop sharper skills in other areas. For example, their powers of observation and ability to get a handle on others’ intentions may become stronger because they’re so aware of tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures and other nonverbal expression. Aphasics are often better able to tell if someone is lying or telling the truth.

It’s a difficult process to learn to live with aphasia, but life can become rewarding again. The involvement of family and their loved one learns to create a new way of living in the world.



Source:
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders; The New Yorker, “Recalled to Life,” 31 October 2005



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