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What You Need to Know About Aphasia

Aphasia is a language disorder that affects nearly one-third of stroke victims. Aphasia occurs when there is damage to the communications hub in the left side of the brain. While aphasia disrupts communication skills, it does not affect a person’s thinking skills. It is critical to watch for signs and symptoms of aphasia following a stroke, and during Aphasia Awareness Month we want to remind people what to look for if a patient or loved one is at increased risk for the disorder.

Stroke patients with aphasia may:

  • Use short or fragmented phrases
  • Put words in the incorrect order
  • Speak in single words
  • Speak with effort
  • Make up words
  • Have a hard time finding the right words
  • Omit small words like “the” and “of”
  • Confuse the sounds of words (e.g. by calling a tablecloth a “clabletoth”)

Understanding aphasia and knowing how to work with aphasia patients is important to ensure best possible communication. There are many types of aphasia, but the most general categories are receptive and expressive aphasia. In cases of receptive aphasia, people can hear a voice or read print, but they may not understand the meaning of a message. In cases of expressive aphasia, people know what they want to say but have difficulty communicating it to others.

Someone with receptive aphasia may:

  • Have difficulty comprehending what others say
  • Have difficulty with reading comprehension
  • Be unaware that they are using words incorrectly

Someone with expressive aphasia may:

  • Be able to understand what others say
  • Have difficulty saying what they are thinking
  • Speak in a jumbled manner
  • Say a word different than the one they want to say
  • Have difficulty writing

If any type of aphasia afflicts you, a loved one or a patient, the first step is to establish the patient’s communication preferences, which vary from person to person. Consider whether the patient would like extensive assistance with word finding or if he or she would prefer less aiding. If the patient uses the wrong word, does he or she want to be corrected? Appreciating the patient’s wishes will benefit both parties in communication.

The American Stroke Association has developed a list of tips for communicating after stroke. For additional clinical and treatment information about aphasia, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website.

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