Aphasia is a neurological condition, and it affects around 250,000 in the UK. It causes problems with speech and language and is most common in people aged over 60 years old.

Types of aphasia

There are various different types of aphasia, including:

  • Global aphasia: global aphasia is one of the most severe forms of aphasia and it tends to affect all forms of communication, from talking and understanding what people are saying, to writing.
  • Broca’s aphasia: Broca’s aphasia affects speech and is sometimes known as expressive or non-fluent aphasia. With this form of aphasia, individuals find it hard to form sentences and often speak in small, fragmented phrases, but you can usually tell what they are trying to say.
  • Wernicke’s aphasia: also known as fluent aphasia, Wernicke’s aphasia affects people’s ability to form sentences that make sense. Although they are able to speak very fluently and string a number of words together, the words are often jumbled and it is difficult to understand the gist of the sentence.
  • Primary progressive aphasia: known as PPA, this form of aphasia often results from a progressive neurological condition, but doesn’t cause symptoms for a long period of time.
  • Aphasia in Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition, which tends to affect communication, memory and the ability to interpret meaning from what other people are saying. With Alzheimer’s, aphasia can make it difficult for people to find the right words to express what they are feeling or what they want to say. This is also known as anomic aphasia or simply anomia.

What are the symptoms and complications of aphasia?

Aphasia contributes to issues with speech and people who have this condition are likely to trip over words, choose the wrong words to represent what they want to say and pronounce letters and sounds incorrectly. People who have aphasia are also likely to struggle with reading and writing.

Sometimes, aphasia can contribute to anger and frustration and occasionally, people suffer from catastrophic reactions, which occur when they become very angry and anxious. These episodes are usually short-lived but there is an increased risk of depression and anxiety, as people find it increasingly difficult to get across what they are trying to say.

What causes aphasia?

Many cases of aphasia result from trauma, strokes and as a side-effect of progressive neurological conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Strokes are believed to be the most common cause of aphasia in the UK. As these conditions are more commonly found in older people, aphasia is often associated with older people. However, aphasia can affect people of all ages when it develops following a traumatic head injury. Aphasia can also affect people who have a brain tumour.

Treatment for aphasia

Aphasia is usually detected and treated by a speech and language therapist. Speech and language therapy can help people to become more fluent in their speech and also to find other ways of communicating if it is difficult to speak and understand what other people are trying to say.

Speech and language therapy can be very effective, but the efficacy is usually limited in cases where aphasia is linked to progressive conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, as communication tends to become worse over the course of time. The aim of treatment in these cases is to maximise the function of the level of communication the individual still has and to enable them to use different types of communication that will come into play as they find talking increasingly difficult.

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