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Aphasia makes it hard to say what you mean or speak at all. It can also make it hard to understand what others are saying.

There are many types of aphasia, and they can range from mild to severe.

Aphasia can often improve with time, treatment, and home exercises.

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What Is Aphasia?

Doctors define aphasia as a language impairment that can affect a person's ability to express themselves or comprehend others.

Expressive issues may include trouble with writing or verbal communication.

Comprehension problems may make it hard to understand what others say or what one needs.

Aphasia affects about 1 in 275 people and most often happens after a stroke. Other brain injuries and diseases can also cause the condition.

What are the types of aphasia?

Aphasia comes in many forms, depending on the location of the brain damage and how severe.

The most common types of aphasia are Broca's, Wernicke's, and global.

Anomic aphasia

People with this type are able to express themselves. And they can often comprehend auditory speech and written language.

But they may have problems finding the right words they want to express — especially nouns and verbs. They may substitute another word for the desired one.

Broca's aphasia

Doctors also call this form expressive or non-fluent aphasia because people have increased trouble forming words and accessing vocabulary. But they can usually understand others well.

Most people with Broca's aphasia can get across basic information. They know what they want to say but can't find the words or make a sentence.

For instance, they may be able to produce the main topic they want to discuss, such as saying "dog." But what they want to say is, "I am going to walk the dog."

Conduction aphasia

This type makes it hard for people to repeat words they hear or find certain words.

People with conduction aphasia can usually understand others well.

Global aphasia

This is the most severe form of aphasia.

People with this type can produce very few recognizable words and have severely impaired comprehension.

Wernicke's aphasia

People with this severe form of aphasia can typically produce connected and “fluent" speech. But the output may not make sense.

People with Wernicke's aphasia may use jargon and made-up words when speaking. They often have severe comprehension problems, including reading and writing.

Transcortical sensory aphasia

People with this form of aphasia typically have fluent output and intact repetition but impaired auditory comprehension.

Transcortical motor aphasia

People with this type of aphasia have non-fluent output that is halting with many starts and stops.

But they can repeat long phrases they hear and often understand others well.

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA)

PPA is a form of dementia that worsens over time, where aphasia is a primary symptom.

In the early stages, PPA can be mild. But over time, it evolves and causes more severe language impairments.

What causes aphasia?

Aphasia happens when there is brain damage.

This damage can occur due to:

  • A brain injury or tumor.
  • Cancer.
  • Dementia.
  • Stroke.
  • Swelling in the brain from a serious infection.

What are aphasia risk factors?

The following health issues increase the risk of stroke and dementia, common causes of aphasia:

  • Advanced age.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Heavy alcohol use.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Smoking.

Why choose UPMC for aphasia care?

We offer world-class neurologists, speech-language therapists, and brain imaging. This ensures you get an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment plan.

Our speech therapists are experts in treating all types of aphasia. We cater treatment to each person's unique challenges and goals.

We take an evidence-based approach that ensures the right number of sessions and type of therapy. We also use effective technology and tools to help improve speech and language processing between therapy sessions. For those who can't use screens, we offer paper-based options.

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Aphasia?

The symptoms of aphasia depend on what type you have but often include:

  • Problems with finding certain words.
  • Trouble understanding conversations.
  • Speaking in short sentences.
  • Saying unrecognizable words.
  • Replacing one word or sound for another (saying “bench" instead of “couch," or “sand" instead of “hand").
  • Trouble reading and writing.

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How Do You Diagnose Aphasia?

A doctor or speech-language therapist can diagnose aphasia.

They'll assess skills like speaking, listening, writing, and reading.

The doctor may also order an MRI or CT scan to look for signs of brain damage.

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How Do You Treat Aphasia?

Aphasia can improve over time as the brain heals from a stroke or injury.

Depending on your age, type of injury, and other factors, aphasia may improve over weeks, months, or years.

For people with PPA, therapy and regular social communication can help maintain their skills for as long as possible.

This can also be helpful for family and caregiver support as PPA gets worse over time.

Speech-language therapy for aphasia

This is the main treatment for aphasia. Sessions typically last about 45 minutes and can occur in person or online.

Studies show more sessions, such as three a week, can lead to greater improvements.

Speech therapy tasks may involve:

  • Repeating words.
  • Matching words to pictures.
  • Practicing everyday conversations.
  • Other exercises.

The therapist will tailor the treatment to each person's needs and provide at-home exercises.

They'll also often meet with family members to:

  • Help them encourage their loved one's speech.
  • Teach them strategies to improve communication breakdowns.

Medicines to treat aphasia

There are ongoing studies of medications that may be able to improve aphasia.

For people whose aphasia is due to dementia, antidepressants can reduce agitation and stress.

Adaptive tools to help aphasia

Treatment can also help a person communicate in new ways.

For instance, gestures or a laminated sheet of pictures can help people with severe aphasia express their needs.

There are also many speech-generative tools and apps that help supplement communication by providing visual images and producing speech.

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