Aphasia Treatment: Living with Aphasia after a Stroke

August 30, 2022

Aphasia Treatment: Living with Aphasia after a Stroke

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a disorder of the brain that affects the language centers, impeding communication. It can impact speech and the ability to write and understand written and spoken language.

Aphasia is not a disease or a condition. Rather, it is a symptom of a head injury, stroke, brain tumor, infection, or progressive neurological condition. While aphasia affects the way a person communicates, it does not affect their intelligence. It may develop quickly after a stroke or a blow to the head, but it may also develop slowly from a degenerative disease such as dementia.

What causes aphasia?

The most common cause of aphasia is a stroke on the left side of the brain, in the areas that control the ability to speak and use language. A stroke occurs when a blood clot or a leaking or burst vessel cuts off blood flow to an area of the brain. The resulting loss of oxygen-rich and nutrient-rich blood to the area causes brain cell death or damage. When blood flow is blocked to one of the language centers of the brain, aphasia can occur.

Sometimes temporary episodes of aphasia result from migraines, seizures or TIAs (transient ischemic attacks). A TIA is a kind of mini stroke, when blood flow is temporarily restricted to a portion of the brain. In these cases, a patient quickly regains speech and language abilities without treatment. For this article, we’ll discuss the more common types of aphasia that occur after a stroke or head injury and their treatment.

Types of aphasia

Broadly speaking, there are two types of aphasia: fluent and non-fluent— with several types within these.

Wernicke’s aphasia is the most common type of fluent aphasia, characterized by patients who speak in long sentences that contain unnecessary or made up words. Their sentences make no sense to the listener, but are perfectly clear to the patient – they are unaware of their incorrect speech. Patients with Wernicke’s aphasia may also have a hard time understanding the speech of others.

Broca’s aphasia is the most common type of non-fluent aphasia. Patients with Broca’s aphasia may understand their own and others’ speech, but may have great difficulty speaking. They tend to omit small words such as “the,” “and,” “is,” and “a.”

There are other types of aphasia as well, depending on which language areas of the brain are damaged and to what extent.

Patients with aphasia may:

  • Have only a slight communication impairment.
  • Speak in short or incomplete sentences.
  • Speak or write in sentences that don’t make sense.
  • Have difficulty finding words or be unable to say any words at all.
  • Substitute one word for another or one sound for another.
  • Repeat the same words or phrases over and over again.
  • Speak unrecognizable words.
  • Not understand what they read.
  • Be unable to understand other people’s speech.
  • Find it difficult to repeat sentences even though they understand them.
  • Have difficulty naming objects even though they’re completely aware of what the object is.

What is the best treatment for aphasia after a stroke?

“Research has shown that language and communication abilities can continue to improve for many years and are sometimes accompanied by new activity in brain tissue near the damaged area… Aphasia therapy aims to improve a person’s ability to communicate by helping him or her to use remaining language abilities, restore language abilities as much as possible, and learn other ways of communicating, such as gestures, pictures, or use of electronic devices.”

Aphasia, NIH National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorder

After a stroke or any brain injury, the benefits of neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to create new pathways to perform familiar tasks — help the brain to recover. Dramatic improvements can be seen in the first few months, even if the patient is not treated. In most cases, some aphasia remains after this initial recovery period, but with the help of speech and language therapy, the patient can regain their communication skills.

Speech therapy is one of the most common therapies for a stroke survivor, as nearly one-third experience some type of aphasia. A speech therapist helps the patient with thinking, cognition, processing, self-expression, and understanding spoken language. They use a variety of tools to achieve these goals, including repeating certain words or phrases, flash cards, and pictures.

At Good Shepherd, stroke survivors are also treated by one of our world-class Physiatrists who guide each patient through their recovery. A physiatrist is a physician whose specialty is helping patients restore function. They focus on a patient’s rehabilitation goals and work to understand their pain and limitations. Good Shepherd’s Physiatrists coordinate a stroke survivor’s care with the therapy team and are their greatest advocates during recovery. Their goals are to rehabilitate the entire person, and address their physical, emotional, medical, and vocational needs.

If you would like to learn more about Good Shepherd’s Stroke Rehabilitation Program, see our page here or call 1-888-44-REHAB.