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Aphasia: Types, causes, symptoms, treatments

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a communication disorder affecting a person's speech and use of language, resulting in them making mistakes with words.

Aphasia is caused by damage, injury, tumours or medical conditions such as stroke that affect the parts of the brain responsible for language.

Aphasia does not impair the person's intelligence. People who have aphasia may have difficulty speaking and finding the "right" words to complete their thoughts. They may also have problems understanding conversation, reading and comprehending written words, writing words and using numbers.

What causes aphasia?

Aphasia is usually caused by a stroke or brain injury with damage to one or more parts of the brain that deal with language. The charity Speakability estimates there are around 250,000 people in the UK with some degree of aphasia. The NHS says that in the UK approximately a third of all stroke victims experience some degree of aphasia after their stroke.

Aphasia may also be caused by a brain tumour, brain infection or dementia such as Alzheimer's disease. In some cases, aphasia is an episodic symptom of epilepsy or other neurological disorder.

Are there different types of aphasia?

Yes. There are different types of aphasia. Each type can cause impairment that varies from mild to severe. Common types of aphasia include the following:

Expressive aphasia. With expressive aphasia, the person knows what he or she wants to say yet has difficulty communicating it to others. It doesn't matter whether the person is trying to say or write what he or she is trying to communicate.

Receptive aphasia. With receptive aphasia, the person can hear a voice or read the print, but may not understand the meaning of the message. Often someone with receptive aphasia takes figurative language literally.

Anomic aphasia. With anomic aphasia, the person has difficulties finding words. This is called anomia. Because of the difficulties, the person struggles with an inability to find the right words for speaking and writing.

Global aphasia. This is the most severe type of aphasia. It is often seen straight after someone has a stroke. With global aphasia, the person has difficulty speaking and understanding words. In addition, the person is unable to read or write.

Primary progressive aphasia. Primary progressive aphasia is a progressive disorder. With primary progressive aphasia, people lose their ability to talk, read, write and comprehend what they hear in conversation over a period of time. With a stroke, aphasia may improve with appropriate therapy. There is, though, no treatment to reverse primary progressive aphasia. People with primary progressive aphasia are able to communicate in ways other than speech. For instance, they might use gestures. And many benefit from a combination of speech therapy and medications.

Aphasia may be mild or severe. With mild aphasia, the person may be able to converse yet have trouble finding the right word or understanding complex conversations. Severe aphasia limits the person's ability to communicate. The person may say little and may not participate in or understand any conversation.

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