• Jaejeong & Jaeah Kim

Aphasia: On the Tip of The Tongue

We recently posted a brain dissection video (which you can check out here), where we explained the anatomy and physiology of the body’s most complex organ. But, alas, there are downsides to such complexities of the brain, as it leaves much room for many, many complications. Aphasias are one of such numerous neurological conditions.

Aphasia is defined as the impairment of language, affecting a person’s ability to read, write, and produce/comprehend speech. Aphasias are always due to an injury to the brain, whether it be from a stroke, brain tumor, infection, or head trauma. The severity of aphasias varies greatly, where it can be severe to a point where communication with the patient is impossible, or it can just be a minor inconvenience. There are cases of aphasia where only one aspect of language use is affected, be it the ability to form sentences, the ability to retrieve names, or the ability to read. However, aphasias much more commonly impair multiple aspects of communication. There are many varieties of aphasia, but I’ll explain the six most common ones in the paragraphs below.

Broca’s Aphasia: People with Broca’s aphasia (often referred to as ‘non-fluent aphasia’) have greatly reduced speech output, and are usually limited to short utterances of ~4 words. They also have trouble with processing vocabulary and forming sounds. However, while they are limited in speaking and writing, they have little to no problem understanding speech and reading.

Global Aphasia: Global aphasia is the most severe type of aphasia, and patients with global aphasia are almost unable to produce recognizable language, understand spoken language, read, or write. This type of aphasia usually occurs as a direct result of a patient having suffered a stroke, and usually gets better over time if the damage caused by the stroke wasn’t too extensive. However, greater strokes can cause long-lasting global aphasia that does severe damage to the brain.

Mixed non-fluent Aphasia: People with mixed non-fluent aphasia are able to produce occasional, effortful speech, often resembling a very severe case of Broca’s aphasia. However, unlike people with Broca’s aphasia, people with mixed non-fluent aphasia are limited in their ability to read, write, and comprehend speech.

Wernicke’s Aphasia: People with Wernicke’s aphasia (often referred to as ‘fluent aphasia’) are greatly limited in their ability to understand the meaning of spoken words, but they are well capable of producing cohesive speech. However, their spoken sentences often have irrelevant word intrusions and grammatical errors, making it difficult to understand. People with Wernicke’s aphasia are also impaired in their abilities to read and write.

Primary Progressive Aphasia: primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a type of aphasia where a patient’s language abilities slowly become impaired over a long period of time. In comparison to many other types of aphasia that are caused by strokes or a brain injury, PPA is usually a result of a neurodegenerative disease such as Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration or Alzeheimer’s Disease– the deterioration of brain tissue responsible for speech and language caused by such neurodegenerative diseases results in PPA.

Anomic Aphasia: People with anomic aphasia are impaired in their abilities to find words (especially verbs and nouns), for the things they want to talk/write about. However, they do not have any issues with the grammatical aspect of spoken/written language. They are also able to understand spoken language well, and can read adequately.

There you have it. If you ever come across anyone that has trouble reading, writing, speaking, or comprehending speech, please be aware that they might be suffering from one of these Aphasias, and treat them with patience and respect. Remember, no matter how frustrated you are when interacting with someone with Aphasia, they are 100x times more frustrated at themselves than you are.


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