Understanding Types of Aphasia

To mark National Aphasia Awareness Month, we are looking at what aphasia is, the different types of aphasia and how you can communicate more effectively with people who have the condition. In a separate post, we will be considering the treatments available for people with aphasia.

What causes aphasia?

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person’s ability to process language but does not affect their intelligence.

People are not born with aphasia, but they may develop it after a stroke, brain injury, infection or as a result of a neurological disorder. Aphasia may cause people to struggle to understand language, to speak, read or write.

The disorder can vary in severity. In its most severe form, it can be almost impossible for someone with the condition to make themselves understood, while other types of aphasia may affect the ability to remember particular words or to construct a sentence. Sometimes, someone may lose the ability to read.

Often people with aphasia may experience impairment in several different forms of communication but may still have some ability to communicate. Treatment for the condition tends to focus on determining how much function remains and enhancing those channels that are still available.

Aphasia versus dysphasia

Aphasia is sometimes confused with dysphasia. While aphasia and dysphasia have the same causes and symptoms, dysphasia tends to involve moderate language impairments whereas aphasia is more severe, potentially resulting in a complete loss of speech and the ability to understand speech. Some health professionals use the terms interchangeably, which can be confusing.

Types of aphasia

There are various different types of aphasia depending on the location and extent of the brain injury. These include:

  • Global aphasia is the most severe form of the condition. Patients understand little or no spoken language, can produce few recognisable words and cannot read or write. It can occur immediately after a stroke but may improve quite quickly if the extent of brain damage is not too severe.
  • Broca’s or non-fluent aphasia severely impacts speech. People may not be able to utter more than a few words and the formation of sounds may be laborious. The ability to read and understand speech remains intact, however, although the ability to write may also be affected.
  • Mixed non-fluent aphasia is form of aphasia where the person will have very limited speech (as with Broca’s aphasia) and may also struggle to understand speech. Reading and writing may be very limited.
  • Wernicke’s or fluent aphasia affects the ability to understand speech. The person may still able to speak themselves, although the meaning might be unclear and sentence structure can often be jumbled. Reading and writing may be severely impaired.
  • Anomic aphasia affects the ability to recall nouns and verbs which can make speech and writing vague and difficult to understand. Those affected can understand speech well and read adequately.

Primary progressive aphasia

Unlike other forms of aphasia, which are the result of stroke or brain injury, primary progressive aphasia is caused by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration.

The deterioration of brain tissue associated with speech and language causes this type of aphasia to worsen over time. Initial symptoms might include problems with speech and language but other issues such as memory loss may develop later.

Communicating with someone with aphasia

There are some simple ways to improve communication with someone who is suffering from aphasia:

  1. Be patient. Allow the person plenty of time to process what you are saying and respond.
  2. Talking in a quiet place without too many distractions can help.
  3. Do not patronise. Remember, the condition does not affect a person’s intelligence.
  4. It can be frustrating for the person with aphasia to try and communicate. Using an iPad, pen and paper or gestures may help them to express themselves more easily.

Dementech specialises in diagnosing and treating neurological disorders including all types of aphasia. For more information contact our experienced and friendly team.

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