What is Aphasia? | Whittier, CA | PIH Health

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Published on June 06, 2022

What is Aphasia?

This communication disorder forced Bruce Willis into early retirement.

Photo of a senior woman holding and looking at a green apple while undergoing speech therapyPopular actor Bruce Willis’ family recently announced that he was stepping away from his acting career due to a health condition called aphasia. While many people may have been saddened to hear the news, it also left them wondering about the condition. Here’s an overview about what aphasia is and how it affects a person and their loved ones.

What is aphasia?

“Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects how someone understands and expresses spoken or written language,” says Jonathan Marehbian MD, PIH Health neurologist. “It is caused by damage to an area in the dominant, usually the left side of the brain for a majority of people that is responsible for language. As language one of the major cognitive domains, it can affect one’s cognitive abilities”

What causes aphasia?

About 2 million Americans have aphasia and stroke is the most common cause of the condition. According to Dr. Marehbian, injuries or conditions that affect the portion of the brain that controls language, such as brain trauma, brain tumors, brain hemorrhage and neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may also cause aphasia. With some of these conditions the symptoms may be immediate and maximal at onset, while in others it can develop gradually and worsens over time.

What are the symptoms of aphasia?

If you’ve ever struggled to find the right word to express yourself, you may be concerned that you have aphasia, but this condition goes beyond finding the right word on occasion. Although different people may have different symptoms, here are some of the more common symptoms of aphasia:

  • Difficulty remembering names of things
  • Not being able to put together sentences to express what you’re thinking
  • Saying things that don’t make sense or have no meaning
  • Making up words
  • Hesitancy with normal flow of speaking
  • Using words that don’t fit in a sentence and wrong word substitutions
  • Omitting words from a sentence
  • Being unable to understand what people are saying
  • New difficulties with reading or writing

Is there a cure for aphasia?

“If aphasia is caused by a stroke or brain injury, a person may recover to some degree as the brain has time to use rewiring pathways to compensate for the damaged areas,” says Dr. Marehbian. “If due to a degenerative condition, there is no cure for aphasia but rehabilitation and speech therapy may help enhance a person’s ability to communicate. Treatment is also aimed at educating family members about the problem and providing them with tips on how to better communicate with the patient.”

How does aphasia affect the person who has it?

Not being able to easily communicate with others can be extremely frustrating, especially when other cognitive abilities are still intact. It can cause people to pull away and makes them feel isolated. However, socialization is one of the best ways to slow progression of the condition. If you know someone who has aphasia, encouraging them to communicate with others as much as possible is important, even though it may be difficult and frustrating. Joining support groups may also help those affected better cope with their aphasia. Depression may also ensue after a stroke, especially in those with aphasia, which should also be addressed with the appropriate therapeutic means.

How does aphasia affect loved ones?

Since aphasia is a communication disorder, it can be especially hard on loved ones. Knowing that most of a person’s cognitive abilities are still intact but they have difficulty understanding you or communicating their thoughts and needs can be especially challenging and frustrating. Patience is one of the most important traits you need to have when someone you love has aphasia. Try to get into the habit of speaking slowly and keeping sentences short and simple. Repeat yourself when necessary. Give someone extra time to respond. Find nonverbal ways to communicate as appropriate, such as drawing images. Don’t make frequent corrections of words when spoken incorrectly. Encourage as much independence as possible

To find a doctor go to PIHHealth.org/Doctors.

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