Aphasia — Putting the disorder into words: Part 1 of 2

Posted by Sarah Krenik, C.C.C.S.L.P.
June 05, 2013

“It’s on the tip of my tongue” is a phrase everyone has said time and time again. Sometimes it’s hard to find that word you’re looking for – whether it’s someone’s name, a common object or something else. But for people with a disorder called aphasia, it’s as if their brain’s “word cabinet” falls over and mixes all of their words around, resulting in varying levels and forms of language comprehension and expression impairment.

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, making this a perfect opportunity for you to learn more about the condition, its causes and how it’s treated.

1. Causes.

A stroke and its subsequent brain damage is the most common cause of aphasia. A stroke results from the bursting or blockage of blood vessels supplying the brain. This creates a reduction of blood flow to the brain, which deprives the brain of essential nutrients and oxygen needed to support brain cell life.

Aphasia can also surface due to a brain tumor, infection or degenerative disease. There is always an underlying cause of aphasia and this determines the severity of language difficulties.

Temporary aphasia can appear during a migraine, seizure or transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke). Anyone who experiences a TIA is at an elevated risk for a full-blown stroke in the near future.

2. Symptoms.

A person who is affected by aphasia may:

  • Use words or sentences that don’t make sense
  • Speak in brief or incomplete sentences
  • Experience difficulty understanding conversations
  • Have trouble writing coherent sentences

Seek medical help immediately if you or a loved one experiences these symptoms. A form of aphasia can be the first sign of stroke.

3. Types.

Aphasia presents itself in three different ways. Your health care provider may classify aphasia as:

  • Broca’s (nonfluent) aphasia. People with this form of aphasia speak in short sentences with missing words and have difficulty getting words out. Broca’s aphasia is often very frustrating for sufferers as most of them are aware of their communication difficulties.
  • Wernicke (fluent) aphasia. Fluent aphasia refers to individuals who communicate in long sentences that are hard to understand or contain incomprehensible, unneeded or incorrect words. Most people with fluent aphasia don’t realize they have a communication disorder.
  • Global aphasia. This is the most severe form of aphasia. It causes major comprehension and expression disabilities.

Read more: Aphasia — Putting the disorder into words: Part 2 of 2

Learn more about Mayo Clinic Health System's Aphasia Camp

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