We know the human brain really is an amazing thing. When it’s healthy and working normally, it controls everything from basic physiologic functions to sensory interpretation and memory. When the brain is damaged, however, certain functions can be impaired or lost completely. Certain types of brain damage can even lead to the partial or total loss of one’s language capabilities; this is something known as aphasia.
Despite the fact that more Americans acquire aphasia each year than Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy, the average person knows very little about this detrimental neurological disorder. This month is National Aphasia Awareness Month, and we encourage you to educate your friends by sharing these facts on aphasia and information on how to support those affected by it. Here are 5 things everyone needs to know about aphasia:
- Aphasia is a language disorder
Aphasia doesn’t affect intelligence, but it does affect one’s language abilities. People affected by aphasia may have trouble speaking, listening, reading, or writing. It’s also possible for those with certain types of aphasia to substitute words (“train” for “car”), switch sounds within words (“mashing wachine” for “washing machine”), or string together sentences containing a mixture of real and made-up words.
- Aphasia is caused by damage to the brain
Aphasia isn’t a disease; it’s a symptom of damage to portions of the brain responsible for language. Since the majority of the brain’s language capabilities originate from the left hemisphere, damage to the left side of the brain is what usually results in aphasia. The most common cause of brain damage resulting in aphasia is stroke, and the American Psychological Association estimates that roughly 20—40% of stroke survivors acquire some form of aphasia. Brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries, and progressive neurological disorders are other common causes of aphasia.
- Aphasia can be expressive, receptive, or conductive
Depending on which portion of the brain is damaged, it’s possible to experience expressive, receptive, or conductive (global) aphasia. Someone with expressive aphasia has trouble speaking, but they can understand spoken language. Someone with receptive aphasia, on the other hand, has trouble understanding speech. Conductive aphasia is the loss of both expressive and receptive language capabilities. People with conductive aphasia are severely limited with all forms of communication, including written communication.
- Aphasia has a major impact on one’s life
When someone acquires aphasia, it’s a life-changing event. It can affect one’s ability to work, to socialize, and even to communicate basic needs to others. Needless to say, adjusting to this degree of language loss can be extremely frustrating. Imagine suddenly losing the ability to effectively communicate with your loved ones. Not only would this make it harder for you to complete activities of daily living, it would make it harder for you to express your thoughts and feelings, which could easily lead to isolation and depression.
- Aphasia treatment is available
Currently, there are several types of treatment available for those affected by aphasia. Most often, these treatments are provided in the form of speech therapy with speech language pathologists or occupational therapists. The most common speech-therapy methods utilized for people with aphasia include conversational practice, reading and writing practice, and group therapy. Another important part of aphasia treatment is strengthening the affected person’s in-tact language skills so that they are better able to communicate through other means.
Give your support
There are plenty of excellent ways to support people affected by aphasia and the organizations dedicated to helping them. If you’d like to do something to help but aren’t sure where to start, consider the following options:
Make a Donation: The National Aphasia Association (NAA) has advocated for people with aphasia for more than twenty-five years. The NAA works to provide people affected by aphasia with better access to research, education, rehabilitation, advocacy, and therapeutic services. Donations make it possible for the organization to make a difference, so please donate today.
Spread Awareness: The purpose of National Aphasia Awareness Month is getting more information out there, so spreading the word about aphasia is a great way to help. Share this article on social media or like the National Aphasia Association’s official Facebook page so that others have the chance to learn more about aphasia.
Do you have any personal or professional experience with aphasia? If you think there’s something else our readers should know about it, be sure to share it by leaving a comment in the section below!