It’s been compared to being in a foreign country and not knowing the language or spending 24 hours a day with a word on the tip of your tongue. Imagine hearing and understanding everyone around you, trying to speak, but being unable to form the words. That’s what aphasia sufferers deal with every single day.

Frustrating, right? What’s also frustrating is the minimal level of awareness of the condition. Even with 2 million people affected – more people than Parkinson’s disease or cerebral palsy – it is still relatively unknown. Approximately 84 percent of Americans haven’t even heard the term. Well, June is National Aphasia Month. Time to raise awareness.

Aphasia is a language impairment usually triggered by a stroke, head injury, tumor or disease that damages the left side of the brain, which is associated with communication skills. The condition can range from mild word confusion to so severe that communication is almost impossible. It can affect a single aspect of language use, such as retrieving specific names of objects or the ability to put words together. More commonly, however, multiple communication aspects are impaired. There are a number of varieties of the condition.

Global aphasia is the most severe form. The term is applied to patients who are unable to read or write, can only produce a few recognizable words, and have lost the ability to understand most language.

Broca’s aphasia is a less severe form, but is marked by severely limited speech – mainly consisting of short sentences of less than four words – and laborious and clumsy word formation. It’s often referred to as “non-fluent aphasia” because of the halting and arduous quality of speech. Sufferers may understand speech well and be able to read, but limited in writing.

Mixed non-fluent aphasia is used to describe patients who have limited and effortful speech, much like Broca’s aphasia. However, mixed non-fluent aphasia limits the comprehension of speech and makes reading or writing beyond an elementary level nearly impossible.

Wernicke’s aphasia, also known as “fluent aphasia,” typically presents with an ease of producing connected speech, but the ability to grasp the meaning of spoken words is impaired. Speech, however, is not normal. Sentences are typically flawed with incorrect structure and irrelevant words, sometimes referred to as “word salad.” Reading and writing are also severely impaired.

Anomic aphasia is one of the most frustrating forms of the condition. It leaves the patient with a persistent inability to deliver common words – particularly significant nouns and verbs. While they are fluent and understand words accurately, their speech is filled with roundabout verbiage. They also read adequately, but word retrieval is difficult in writing.

Primary Progressive Aphasia is a neurological syndrome that is caused by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's Disease or Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration. It’s a slow and progressive impairment of language capabilities. Instead of being caused by a brain injury, it results from the deterioration of brain tissue associated with speech and language.

People with aphasia often feel deeply frustrated because they know what they want to say but can’t find the words. Because aphasia curtails the ability to communicate, those affected have a difficult time advocating for themselves, which is a key reason the condition is not well-known among the general public. At St. Mary’s Medical Center, we work with aphasia patients every day. It is our job to not only determine the treatment options for aphasia patients, but also advocate on the patient’s behalf.

Join us in spreading the word about aphasia and paving the way for better communication experiences for aphasia sufferers.

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-- Amy Hofstetter is a Speech Therapist at St. Mary’s Medical Center. You can reach our Speech Therapy Department at 816-655-5700.