What is Aphasia?

Aphasia [a-fay-shuh] is a difficulty producing or understanding language after a brain injury. Most commonly this is after a stroke. Aphasia affects how a person can communicate with others and it can affect up to one in three people after a stroke. Aphasia can also occur with events that affect the areas of the brain that are important for language. These may include a brain tumour, head injury or degenerative disease.

Aphasia may cause difficulty speaking, understanding language, reading or writing. Many everyday activities can be difficult for a person with aphasia. These can include:

  • Expressing thoughts to loved ones
  • Writing a text message
  • Making a phone call, including for emergencies
  • Paying bills
  • Talking to a doctor
  • Ordering food
  • Following maps
  • Watching a movie
  • Browsing the internet

Aphasia is not an intellectual impairment. A person with aphasia can still think in the same way. Aphasia can make it difficult for a person to express their thoughts. It can vary in severity from occasional difficulty finding words to not being able to produce any speech at all. Aphasia will affect people in different ways. This means that no two people will have the same experience of aphasia.

There are different types of aphasia. The National Aphasia Association (USA) has a description of the different types of aphasia (https://www.aphasia.org/aphasia-definitions/)

For a video explaining aphasia please watch this: (https://youtu.be/zjkgSCIXo3k).

Aphasia and Apraxia of Speech

Aphasia frequently occurs with other conditions which can effect a person’s speech. Apraxia of Speech (AOS) is difficulty coordinating the muscles involved in producing words and speech. This may be difficult to distinguish from aphasia and sometimes a person can experience both aphasia and apraxia of speech. More about AOS can be found here from the American Speech Language and Hearing Association (https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/Apraxia-of-Speech-in-Adults/).

Aphasia and dementia

Aphasia that results from a dementia process is called Primary Progressive Aphasia. This type of aphasia shares many similarities with aphasia after stroke or brain injury such as difficulty finding words or using grammar. However, it begins gradually and is a degenerative disease meaning that it gets worse over time. More details on this can be found here from the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/primary-progressive-aphasia/symptoms-causes/syc-20350499).

Recovery, rehabilitation and living with aphasia

There is no cure for aphasia. However, many people live successfully with aphasia. Speech Pathologists assess and treat people with aphasia and help to reduce everyday difficulties. Everyone’s recovery from aphasia will be different. Some factors that affect recovery include the size and location of the stroke in the brain.

The brain can re-learn after damage. Therapy helps people to recover. Studies have shown that a person with aphasia can still improve many years after onset. A plain language summary of research into aphasia by the Cochrane Database can be accessed here https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858 .CD000425.pub4/full

Communication is essential to everyday life including developing relationships and being a part of the community. Aphasia affects communication and so has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Unfortunately, rates of depression are high in people with aphasia. Increasingly, research is addressing therapy that targets the psychological impact of aphasia.

Therapy in a group is a way for people with aphasia to feel supported and less isolated. Many people find the relationships they make in aphasia groups to be long lasting and rewarding. People with aphasia can learn from each other and feel comfortable in an understanding communication environment

“Imagine if you were trying to find a word and it was on the tip of your tongue. Now imagine feeling the same thing every time you tried to speak. Every sentence. Every word. That is aphasia. It is very frustrating. It is very isolating.”

Mr Bruce Simcock, Vice President of Aphasia WA and person living with aphasia.

Useful Websites

Australian Aphasia Association https://aphasia.org.au/
Aphasia Victoria https://www.aphasiavic.org.au/
National Aphasia Association (USA) https://www.aphasia.org/
Enable Me https://enableme.org.au/
Stroke Foundation (Aus) https://strokefoundation.org.au/
Stroke Foundation (UK) https://www.stroke.org.uk/
Aphasia New Zealand Charitable Trust: http://www.aphasia.org.nz/aphasia/

Join Us

To become a member of Aphasia WA and/or get involved in the organisation’s activities, please contact us at aphasiawa@gmail.com . We’d love to hear from you