Aphasia… what?

Posted on June 20, 2019 by kerri
I have a friend on Facebook who lives with aphasia. What is interesting about this disorder affecting language, is that unlike a speech disorder—where a person may be able to write fine—and a learning disability like dyslexia or dysgraphia—where a person can speak well but have difficulty communicating in writing, aphasia affects both verbal and written communication, as well as understanding of what is being communicated to them [1] However, aphasia is different for every person, and they may have difficulties in one or many of these areas, and the difficulties can be mild to severe. [1]
 
What causes aphasia?
Unlike many speech or communication disorders that may be diagnosed in early childhood, often from neurodevelopmental disorders or caused by other disabilities (cerebral palsy, for instance) aphasia is caused by a type of brain injury—while most often aphasia is caused by a stroke, brain injuries, tumours, head trauma, and even brain infections can affect the communication centres of the brain causing aphasia. It is estimated that 180,000 new cases of aphasia are diagnosed each year in the United States, and that 1 in 250 people in the US live with aphasia. [2]
Types of aphasia and symptoms
It is important to remember just one of the symptoms of aphasia does not mean a person has aphasia. Aphasia will most often if not always be secondary to another medical condition and be readily identified by a physician as a result of the other medical issue (ie. stroke, brain injury), and is diagnosed as part of a workup after the initial event occurs.
Impairments in Spoken Language
A person with aphasia that affects their speaking may [3]:
  • have difficulty “finding” words; substitute similar sounds or words
  • require great effort to speak or pause often
  • speak in single words or short phrases
  • not use words like “the”, “of”, or “was” (this is called telegraphic speech which can give a better way to imagine!)
  • put words in the wrong order or make grammatical errors
  • make up words
  • “fluently [string] together nonsense words and real words, but [leave] out or [include] an insufficient amount of relevant content.” [3]
Impairment in spoken language comprehension
A person with aphasia that affects their comprehension of spoken language may [3]:
  • Have evident problems understanding what is said or require extra time to understand
  • Provide “unreliable answers” to closed-ended questions that require only a yes/no response [3]
  • Difficulty in comprehending sentences with “complex grammar” [3]
  • Take “figures of speech” literally
  • Not be aware of errors in speech.
Impairment in written expression
A person with aphasia affecting their ability to write may [3]:
  • Struggle to write or copy letters
  • Write only single words rather than sentences
  • Substitute incorrect letters or incorrect words
  • Spell or write including “nonsense symbols” which do not make sense [3]—consider this like “making up” letters
  • Write run-on sentences that do not make sense or writing sentences with incorrect grammar.
Impairment in written comprehension
If a person has aphasia affecting their comprehension of written words they may [3]:
  • Struggle to comprehend written pieces
  • Have difficulty “sight reading” words
  • Be unable to “sound out” words
  • Switch one word for another similar or associated one (ie. chair vs. couch [3])
  • “[Have] difficulty reading noncontent words, [3]”, like “to, from, the”. [3]
 
How is aphasia managed?
Working with a speech language pathologist, sometimes called a speech therapist, can be hard work for someone with aphasia, but it can help restore previous communication abilities. The speech therapist will do an assessment and work out an individualized plan for the person with aphasia, [4] Different techniques will be used based on the type or types of aphasia a person has.
Technology even plays a part in helping manage aphasia. Computer software, websites, and apps can all be a part of speech therapy. In some situations, those with aphasia and their families will be trained to use technology called Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices to help them communicate. These can include keyboards which read what a person is typing, apps for cellular phones or tablets (which may also use pictures to help a person ‘find’ their words), or cards with common words or phrases on them.
Just as no two cases of aphasia are the same, no two types of therapy are, either!
Medical ID for aphasia
As speaking, understanding, and communication in general are affected by aphasia, a medical ID bracelet or necklace identifying a patient with aphasia (and the cause) can help keep people with aphasia safe. Aphasia medical ID bracelets can also double as in case of emergency bracelets, engraved with a contact name and phone number so that a loved one can be contacted in an emergency. Identifying yourself or a loved one with aphasia medical jewelry can also help ensure staff use alternate methods of communication that are appropriate—such as providing paper, speaking more slowly to allow processing time, or ensuring a person has an AAC device available at all times.
All My Identity Doctor ID jewelry is customizable, making it a perfect choice for safety with the variability in effects of aphasia.

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