Living with Aphasia
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
family members can do to reduce the isolation of aphasia
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
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
simple, uncomplicated sentences, but remember that you’re talking to an
the most important words, if necessary, or write them down, if that’s helpful.
your loved one in conversations, and encourage any kind of communication—gestures,
facial expressions, etc.
correct your loved one—it doesn’t help.
rush your loved one.
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.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders; The New Yorker, “Recalled to Life,” 31 October 2005