What to Expect When You're Not Expecting Aphasia

Aug 04, 2014 | by Faye Stillman, MS, CCC-SLP/ATP

Aphasia is an acquired neurogenic language disorder resulting from a stroke or brain injury; it impacts a person's ability to process, use, and understand language. Any aphasia can cause frustration and stress, certainly for individuals living with it, but also for his or her caregiver. An aphasia diagnosis is unplanned, unexpected, and frustrating, but it’s not hopeless.

Because we work with families and individuals with aphasia all the time, we pulled together helpful resources for caregivers and loved ones new to aphasia. Here is what to expect when you’re not expecting aphasia.

Different Types of Aphasia

Categorizing different types of aphasia can be complicated. Aphasia may be classified based upon the location of the brain lesion, or the patterns of language difficulties; each with varying degrees of influence on an individual’s language skills. To understand the type of aphasia your loved one may be facing, visit with your speech-language pathologist (SLP) or neurologist. It is important to keep in mind that a person’s initial presenting symptoms can change with recovery, and therefore; the classification of the aphasia may also change.

Mild to Severe Aphasia

The severity of aphasia depends on the degree and location of damage to the brain. The greater the severity of the aphasia, the more limited the speech and language skills can be. Here is what to expect with mild to severe aphasia:

Mild aphasia:

  • Individuals may have trouble understanding long messages;
  • Individuals may need a little extra time to understand and respond to spoken messages;
  • Individuals may have difficulty finding words to express or explain an idea;
  • Individuals may put words in the wrong order, or substitute the wrong word/part of a word when talking, i.e. calling a “table” a “cup;"
  • Individuals may have difficulty responding to questions when they are put on the spot;
  • Individuals may be able to participate in basic conversations in various settings;

Severe aphasia:

  • Individuals may have trouble understanding spoken utterances;
  • Individuals may be unreliable in responding to “yes/no” questions;
  • Individuals may not be aware of their own errors;
  • Individuals may use made-up/non-sense words, or a combination of words and jargon; that is not understood by the listener and/or communication partner.

Improvement is Possible

There are many different options for treatment of people with aphasia. Research shows that aphasia treatment should be initiated as soon as possible and as can be tolerated (National Stroke Foundation, 2010; Stroke Foundation of New Zealand and New Zealand Guidelines Group 2010). Expert clinicians and medical professionals suggest that individuals with persistent aphasia should be referred for continued speech-language therapy in a group or one-to-one setting at six months post cerebral vascular accident(CVA) (Taylor-Goh, 2005). Our chief scientist, Dr. Steele, has been instrumental in researching and providing evidence that people with aphasia can continue to make significant gains several years after their stroke, surprising researchers and giving hope to the hundred of thousands of stroke and brain injury survivors.

So what does this mean for individuals and caregivers facing aphasia? It means that a lifetime of on-going practice makes recovering language skills possible.

Practice, practice, practice

Improvement starts with a great SLP. In the U.S. more than 16,000 SLPs treat adults with speech disorders including aphasia. These professionals understand the challenges of trying to understand someone with a language disorder and they can provide functional tips and techniques for caregivers to communicate with their loved one. Learning these new ways to facilitate functional communication from an SLP will help your loved one begin to face life with aphasia. You can also check out the tips for communication with an adult with aphasia here.

Additionally, tools like mobile device applications, speech-generating devices, online speech therapy, and support groups can help your loved one strengthen his/her communication skills and regain confidence. They can also help your loved one find meaningful and helpful ways to share his/her wants and needs, personal information, and safety information; including information about pain or symptoms of illness.

Find Support

There are hundreds of support groups, speech clinics, and online groups that can be beneficial to caregivers and individuals with aphasia. You can find a local stroke support group in your area here. We also recommend the online Facebook-based support group Aphasia Recovery Connection (ARC). ARC provides caregivers and individuals with aphasia the opportunity to connect and share their story, strategies, and successes with others who are facing the same struggles. Joining is free.

Another option available is intensive care clinics and programs. With an intensive care program, the individual with aphasia lives on-site for up to six weeks and faces a rigorous grouping of speech therapy treatment, one-on-one sessions with an SLP, and interaction with others with aphasia. Many find this environment helpful for gaining significant progress in a short amount of time. (Bhogal, Teasell, & Speechley, 2003; Teasell et al., 2011), however; some studies have concluded mixed results with this approach (Cherney et al., 2010) (Cherney, Patterson, & Raymer, 2011).

Regardless of the approach you select to improve your loved one’s communication skills and decrease communication frustrations, remember that there is hope. Individuals with aphasia can improve.

If you have any questions or need additional help, please reach out to our team at 888-274-2742.