June is “Aphasia Awareness Month” and many health groups and centers are taking this opportunity to help educate the public on a disorder known as aphasia. Though it is a condition that afflicts over a million Americans and is more common than Parkinson’s disease, most people know very little about this neurological affliction.What is the Aphasia?
Aphasia is a neurological disorder that affects one’s ability to speak as well as understand others. These language problems may be partially or completely lost, and the person affected may have problems with reading and writing as well.
Common causes of aphasia are brain damage, head injury
, stroke, tumors, or brain infections. It’s estimated that about 40% of people suffering with aphasia are stroke survivors
Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas became afflicted with the disorder after suffering a stroke
. Since that time he has appeared in numerous interviews, on talk shows, and at awards programs despite his difficulties with the aphasia symptoms. Imagine the initial frustration of trying to communicate without words, especially when someone like Douglas is well known for his eloquent speech. Aphasia symptoms.
In aphasia, speech isn’t affected from impaired muscle control. The problem lies in the brain.
Someone with aphasia may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Using only verbs and nouns in speech
- Using made-up words or the wrong words
- Mixing word order in sentences
- Retrieving certain words from memory
- Understanding the words other speak
- Remembering new information
- Understanding the meaning of numbers or trouble working with numbers
Recovery is a slow process. If the symptoms continue for more than three months after a stroke, it is unlikely that complete recovery will occur. Recovery is largely based on how much damage the brain has suffered, what skills were lost, and how well the person responds to treatment and medication.
Left-hemisphere aphasia is the most common though right-hemisphere aphasia may occur if the right side of the brain suffers damage. In these cases, patients have difficulty constructing sentences to make a paragraph and can’t comprehend how to organize the beginning, middle, and end of written text.Treatment for aphasia.
Therapy should begin quickly after brain injury and involves rehabilitation with a speech-language pathologist. This therapy involves:
- Exercise and practice to strengthen weakened facial muscles.
- Using flash cards with pictures of everyday objects to improve vocabulary and word recall.
- Picture boards to communicate ideas
- Reading and writing exercises to rebuild weakened skills
- Computer software to improve speech, recall, hearing and reading comprehension.
Research looks towards understanding the language process, specifically the processes that affect expression and comprehension. By understanding the underlying cause for certain symptoms a more effective treatment may be possible.
The medical community has known for some time that the human brain can rewire itself and bypass any areas affected by brain damage. Not only can the brain bypass damaged brain cells, it can form new neurological centers that can take over the functions of the damaged areas. This discovery was a huge breakthrough in neuroscience and could prove to be a breakthrough in the treatment for aphasia as well.