June is National Aphasia Awareness Month. Aphasia is the total or partial inability to use or understand language. It is typically the result of stroke, brain disease or injury. These patients have no intellectual impairment and no outward sign of handicap.
There are two broad categories of aphasia:
1. Non-fluent, or motor aphasia, is an inability to enunciate words. Patients with this form of aphasia fully understand language and accommodate for their loss of speech by writing or drawing responses.
2. Fluent, or receptive aphasia, is an inability to understand words. These patients will often have difficulty finding the right word or following a command. They will sometimes make up new words to try and express their thoughts.
Injuries causing aphasia involve the dominant brain hemisphere that contains the neural pathways necessary for speech. In 95 percent of right-handed people and the majority of left-handed people, this is the left hemisphere.
Aphasia is a treatable condition. Speech pathologists are trained to perform detailed testing to fully analyze the extent of the impairment and implement a rehabilitation program. These programs require intense effort and patience on the part of people with aphasia. Newly designed computer software provides drills for patients as they retrain the neural pathways necessary for speech. Recovery is often incomplete and can be frustrating for patients and those around them. Speaking slowly is essential, as is calmly waiting for a response. Aphasic patients are not deaf, yet there is often an inclination to speak loudly to someone who has a speech deficit.
Aphasia is a fascinating neurological condition. If you would like more information regarding aphasia, visit the Web site of The National Aphasia Association at www.aphasia.org. If someone you know is recovering from aphasia, applaud their efforts and never underestimate their intellectual ability.