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Adult Language Disorders

What is adult aphasia?

Aphasia is the condition in which an individual has difficulty expressing thoughts and understanding what is said or written by others. Aphasia is caused by brain damage, resulting most often from a stroke or direct injury to the head.

What are some of the language problems associated with aphasia?

Persons with aphasia will have difficulty understanding what is said to them and expressing their own thoughts. They will also have reduced ability to read, write, gesture, or use numbers. Speech may be limited to short phases or single words such as names of objects or actions. Frequently, the smaller words in speech are left out so that the sentence is shortened to "key words" like a telegram. The word order may be incorrect, or the message may be turned around and difficult to understand. Sometimes, sounds and words get changed, for example, calling a table a "chair" or calling a bank teller a "tank beller." Nonsense words like "baba" or "shanna" may even be used. Some people with aphasia may produce speech with obvious effort and misarticulations. The most common characteristic is difficulty in naming. The person with aphasia may know what to do with a toothbrush, for example, but will have forgotten what to call it. 

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Why does it take a person with aphasia so long to respond?

Persons with aphasia need extra time to understand what is being said to them. They hear the words, but they may not immediately recall the meaning of the word. In some cases, it may sound to the person with aphasia as if the speaker is talking in a foreign language. In addition, they need time to think of the words they want to use. Once individuals with aphasia think of the word they want to use, will they remember it? Often they will forget the word once they use it and will have to renew the searching process when they need it again. Their child's name, for example. They may say it several times, but then not be able to recall the name a few minutes later.

Is it typical for individuals with aphasia to swear?

Yes, many times they retain certain automatic responses, such as swearing, counting, naming the days of the week and social responses, such as "fine," "thanks," and "hi." Don't criticize them for swearing. They often won't realize they're saying anything inappropriate.

What other problems can be caused by a stroke or head injury?

Some individuals may have trouble pronouncing words properly. Their speech may be slurred. They may also be more emotional. For example, they may become frustrated more easily, and they may laugh or cry excessively. They may also be confused or forgetful at times. 

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What are some of the physical problems connected with brain damage?

Aphasia usually is caused by injury to the left side of the brain. When one side of the brain is hurt, the opposite side of the body is affected. Often times persons with aphasia have a weakness of the right arm and leg. Vision may also be affected. In fewer instances, seizures will occur.

What is spontaneous recovery?

As the body recovers from the brain damage on a physical level, some individuals with aphasia will regain former skills, like talking or writing. Improvement may be within days or continue for at least six months, or even longer. This immediate improvement is called spontaneous recovery. Spontaneous recovery seldom produces complete return of function, however.

What help is available for the person with aphasia?

There is help, both for the person with aphasia and for the family who needs to understand aphasia. The speech-language pathologist is the professional who is trained at the master's or doctoral level to evaluate the problem and execute a rehabilitation plan. Although few people can be "cured," most can be helped. Your speech-language pathologist will be licensed by the state of NJ and will hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and/or licensing from your state.

How soon shoulds an individual with aphasia see a speech-language pathologist?

Usually within the first few days following the injury. In addition to providing help for speech and language recovery, the speech-language pathologist can offer hope to the individual and guidance for the family. Often the testing information obtained by the speech-language pathologist will be helpful to the medical staff in caring for the person with aphasia. 

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Can family and friends help?

Family members and friends are a vital part of the rehabilitation program. The more they understand the problem, the more they can help the recovery of the person with aphasia. The speech-language pathologist will work closely with the family to help them help their loved one. 

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