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What is aphasia?
Aphasia is a language disorder that makes it hard for you to read, write, and say what you mean to say. Sometimes it makes it hard to understand what other people are saying, too. Aphasia is not a disease. It's a symptom of damage to the parts of the brain that control language.
The signs of aphasia depend on which part of the brain is damaged. There are four main types of aphasia:
- Expressive aphasia is when you know what you want to say, but you have trouble saying or writing your thoughts.
- Receptive aphasia affects your ability to read and understand speech. You can hear what people say or see words on a page, but you have trouble making sense of what they mean.
- Global aphasia is the loss of almost all language ability. You can't speak, understand speech, read, or write.
- Anomic or amnesia aphasia is when you have trouble using the right words for certain things, people, places or events.
In some cases, aphasia may get better on its own. But it can be a long-term condition. There's no cure, but treatment may help improve language skills.
What causes aphasia?
Aphasia happens from damage to one or more parts of the brain involved with language. The damage may be from:
- Stroke, which is the most common cause of aphasia
- Brain tumor
- Brain infection or inflammation
- Brain injury
- Other brain disorders or neurologic diseases that affect the brain and get worse over time, such as dementia
Who is more likely to develop aphasia?
Anyone can have aphasia at any age, but most people with aphasia are middle-aged or older. Most aphasia happens suddenly from a stroke or brain injury. Aphasia from a brain tumor or other brain disorder may develop slowly over time.
How is aphasia diagnosed?
If a health care provider sees signs of aphasia, the provider will usually:
- Test the person's ability to understand language and speech. This includes asking questions and checking to see if the person can follow simple commands.
- Order an imaging scan to see if there's a brain injury and what part of the brain is damaged. Possible tests include:
If imaging shows signs of aphasia, more tests may be needed. These tests measure how much the brain damage has affected the ability to talk, read, write, and understand. In most cases, the tests are done by a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist (a specialist who treats speech and communication disorders).
What are the treatments for aphasia?
Some people fully recover from aphasia without treatment. But most people should begin speech-language therapy to treat aphasia as soon as possible.
Treatment may be one-on-one with a speech therapist or in a group. Therapy using a computer may also be helpful.
The specific therapy depends on the type of language loss that a person has. It may include exercises in reading, writing, following directions, and repeating what the therapist says. Therapy may also include learning how to communicate with gestures, pictures, smartphones, or other electronic devices.
Family participation may be an important part of speech therapy. Family members can learn to help with recovery in many ways, such as:
- Using simpler language
- Including the person with aphasia in conversations
- Repeating or writing down key words to help communicate more clearly
How much a person recovers depends on many things, including:
- What caused the brain injury
- What part of the brain was hurt
- How badly and how much of the brain was hurt
- The age and health of the person
Can aphasia be prevented?
You can help prevent aphasia by:
- Making heart-healthy lifestyle changes to lower your chance of having:
- A stroke
- Heart disease
- Vascular disease (problems with your blood vessels)
- Protecting your brain from injury:
- Wearing the right helmet for sports safety, such as when riding a bike
- Taking action to prevent falls
- Always wearing your seatbelt and driving safely
NIH: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
- Aphasia (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) Also in Spanish
- Aphasia (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) Also in Spanish
- Communication Breakdown: How Aphasia Affects Language (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Types of Aphasia (American Stroke Association)
- Speech to Speech Relay Service (Federal Communications Commission)
- Tips for Socializing with Aphasia (American Stroke Association)
- Aphasia vs. Apraxia (American Stroke Association)
- Let's Talk about Stroke and Aphasia (American Stroke Association) - PDF Also in Spanish
- Primary Progressive Aphasia (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Epilepsy-aphasia spectrum: MedlinePlus Genetics (National Library of Medicine)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Aphasia (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- NIDCD Glossary (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders)
Find an Expert
- Directory of Organizations (Deafness and Communication Disorders) (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders)
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Also in Spanish
- Landau-Kleffner Syndrome (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
- Communicating with someone with aphasia (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Speech impairment (adult) (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish