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ICD 784.3

Article by:
Sarah Morales, BS
Children's Speech Care Center

Aphasia has been defined in many ways. The field of speech-language pathology is constantly changing. Many studies have been conducted, and thus many different conclusions have been made. I will use the definition of two prominent researchers, Luria and Hutton (1977) in this discussion of aphasia. This definition is well accepted in the field, although in examining the links that will be cited below, you may find differences in definitions. Aphasia is a complex disorder, and only in spending time with an aphasic person will one discover the nature of his/her particular difficulties.

Aphasia is a speech and language impairment that results from a stroke or brain injury, e.g., traumatic head injury. It is more common in elderly persons, and young persons who become aphasic are more likely to make a more full recovery dependent on the nature and extent of the injury to the brain. Aphasia may also occur as a component of a disease that attacks brain tissue (e.g., tumors, dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, etc.). There are several types of aphasia, which will be discussed in the next paragraph.

In Wernicke’s aphasia (also called sensory aphasia, fluent aphasia), a person has difficulty understanding language because he/she does not hear words correctly. For example, you may ask such a patient to give you a knife, but he/she will not understand you unless you make the gesture of cutting with your hand. The speech of this patient may be understandable, but the utterances would be meaningless; the words would be strung together seemingly at random. Also, the speech may be fluent (produced without excess effort or tension), but the words may not be real; this type of speech is called jargon. Another type is motor aphasia (also called Broca’s aphasia, non-fluent aphasia). A person with this type has difficulty speaking; his/her words are stuttered and halting. Finding the appropriate positions of the articulators (lips, tongue, jaw) or changing positions of the articulators to speak is difficult. Anomic aphasia (also called amnesic aphasia, nominative aphasia) involves word-finding problems (i.e. problems naming objects). Transcortical motor aphasia preserves the ability to repeat words, name objects, and understand speech, but the person cannot speak spontaneously. The person with conduction aphasia is able to speak spontaneously and name objects, but he/she cannot repeat words. The occurrence of one, “pure” type of aphasia is rare; usually, a person shows signs of multiple types, or in the case of gradually debilitating diseases (e.g,. Alzheimer’s disease—brain damage worsens over time), other problems may be evident (i.e. memory loss, emotional problems).

Emotional difficulties often accompany aphasia. The person may be socially withdrawn, grieving, or frustrated by his/her difficulties in doing tasks that were once simple. The patient may need time and family support to deal with these emotions before beginning, as well as during, speech-language rehabilitation.

Speech-language therapy for aphasia varies based on the severity of the aphasia. The patient may need years of rehabilitation, or he/she may need augmentative and alternative communication (AAC—methods of communication used in place of or in addition to speech). Examples include sign language, picture books, or computerized speech.

Aphasia can best be appropriately assessed and treated by a speech-language pathologist. Families of persons with aphasia are in an important position to help in rehabilitation. Several informative links are worth reading:

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