June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, and even if you’re unfamiliar with the term itself, odds are you’ve known (or known of) someone with aphasia. “Aphasia,” explains Gainesville, Florida-based Speech Language Pathologist, Sharon P. Ascher, MA, CCC-SLP, “is a language disorder that occurs when there is damage to the language center of the brain. It can be caused by trauma or stroke.” That means aphasia is more common in adults, says Ascher, because, “…stroke is more common in adults, especially older adults. Aphasia can also occur from Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI] so it is possible for a child to acquire aphasia due to a brain injury.”
The National Institutes of Health concurs, stating that, “Anyone can acquire aphasia (a loss of the ability to use or understand language), but most people who have aphasia are in their middle to late years. Men and women are equally affected. It is estimated that approximately 80,000 individuals acquire aphasia each year. About 1 million persons in the United States currently have aphasia.”
Aphasia Is Associated With Stroke
Because aphasia is associated with strokes and TBI, it is usually part of a larger set of circumstances rather than the only issue a patient is facing. As a result, explains Ascher, “Aphasia affects every patient differently. Some people are able to understand everything but have difficulty expressing more than a single word.” This is called expressive aphasia, as it impacts a person’s expressive language abilities. “Some people have difficulty understanding and need additional time to process what’s been said to them,” continues Ascher, and that is called receptive aphasia, given that it impacts one’s ability to receive and process speech and language. Lastly, she says, “If there are other areas of the brain that have been affected by stroke or TBI, that can cause further complications in addition to the aphasia.”
So, what does all this mean?
Well, the outcome is different for each patient, just as each patient’s stroke or TBI can impact a different area or percentage of the brain. Ascher explains further, “Aphasia can affect the speaking, listening, reading, and/or writing skills of the affected person. They may be able to carry on a normal conversation, but maybe not. They generally have trouble understanding more complex language. They may have trouble coming up with the word to express what they want to say. A person with severe aphasia may say little or nothing at all. Depending on the extent of the stroke or injury to the brain, with extensive speech and language therapy, a partial or complete recovery of function is possible.”
What you can do
Practicing general safety measures during dangerous activities and wearing proper personal protective gear (seatbelts, helmets, etc.) as appropriate can help reduce your chance of a TBI, which makes it less likely you’ll experience aphasia in your lifetime. Additionally, you can take steps to reduce your risk of stroke by properly managing your blood pressure, visiting your doctor to identify an atrial fibrillation, quitting if you smoke, limiting your alcohol consumption, keeping diabetes in check, and maintaining a healthy weight and fitness level.
If you or a loved one are already living with aphasia, Ascher recommends working extensively with an experienced Speech Language Pathologist and says patients with aphasia should always wear medical ID jewelry. “I would recommend that people with aphasia or TBI use a medical ID bracelet at all times. In an accident or emergency, you can be easily identified by first responders, and they can more appropriately care for and assist you.”
Do you have more questions about speech and language disorders? Catch up with Sharon Ascher, MA, CCC-SLP on Facebook for answers and links to informative articles!