June is Aphasia Awareness Month
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

June is Aphasia Awareness Month

An estimated two million Americans have aphasia, a communication disorder that affects a person's ability to speak, understand, read, or write language. Aphasia is more common than Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, yet most Americans (84.5%) are not even familiar with the term.   

Caused by damage to the language centers of the brain, often due to a stroke or traumatic brain injury, aphasia does not affect intelligence but rather the ability to process and express language. It can manifest in various ways, such as difficulty finding the right words, trouble understanding others, or problems with reading and writing. The severity of aphasia can range from mild to severe, and it can affect individuals of any age, although it is more common in older adults due to the increased risk of stroke.

A person with aphasia may:

  • speak in short or incomplete sentences, or ones that don't make sense.
  • substitute one word for another or one sound for another.
  • speak unrecognizable words.
  • have difficulty finding words.
  • have trouble understanding speech and following conversations. 
  • not understand what they read.
  • write sentences that don't make sense.

The impact of aphasia on an individual's quality of life can be profound. A study found that aphasia has a greater negative impact on a person's quality of life than cancer or Alzheimer's disease. The inability to communicate effectively can lead to social isolation, frustration, and a loss of independence, affecting not only the person with aphasia but also their loved ones.

While there is no medical "cure" for aphasia, many individuals can improve their communication abilities through speech and language therapy. With appropriate and intensive treatment, people can regain lost language skills, even years after the onset of aphasia. 

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are trained to assess and diagnose the specific type and severity of aphasia and develop personalized treatment plans tailored to each individual's needs and goals. SLPs use a variety of techniques and strategies to help individuals with aphasia improve their language skills. These may include:

  1. Language Exercises: SLPs may use exercises and activities to help individuals practice and strengthen their language abilities, such as naming objects, following directions, or engaging in conversation.
  2. Communication Strategies: SLPs teach alternative communication methods, such as gestures, drawing, or using communication aids like picture boards or electronic devices, to help individuals express themselves more effectively.
  3. Reading and Writing Therapy: For individuals with difficulties in reading or writing, SLPs provide specialized therapy to improve these skills, which can enhance independence and quality of life.
  4. Family Education: SLPs work closely with family members and caregivers, providing education and training on how to communicate effectively with their loved one with aphasia and support their recovery.

To learn more about speech and language therapy at SVMC, click here.

NOTE: Aphasia is often a sign of a serious problem. If you or a loved one exhibit signs of aphasia, you need to seek medical evaluation. If the aphasia is of sudden onset, as in a stroke, go directly to the emergency department for prompt evaluation.

 

Kate O’Neill, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at SVMC Outpatient Rehabilitation in Bennington, Wilmington, and Manchester Center. These practices are part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, VT.

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