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Speechless

Understanding aphasia and the silence it can bring.

Article Author: Kristi Tucker

Article Date:

Aphasia affects the ability to speak, read, write and listen.

The recent news that Bruce Willis, one of Hollywood's biggest stars, has been diagnosed with aphasia is raising awareness about a little-known neurological condition that affects the ability to speak, read, write and listen.

Scott Dellorso, MD, a vascular neurologist with Baptist Neurology, answered some of the most common questions about the condition. 

What are the symptoms of aphasia?

Aphasia leads to impairment of language, which makes it hard for people to speak, understand others or read. According to Dr. Dellorso, there are three types, with different symptoms based on which part of the brain is affected:

  • Wernicke's aphasia: Results from injury to the left frontal/temporal region of the brain. Patients may use the wrong words to describe something or say a series of meaningless words that sound like a sentence, but don't make sense.

  • Broca's aphasia: Results from injury to the frontal regions of the left hemisphere. Patients may have difficulty forming or understanding complete sentences. They may also use a word that's close to what's intended, but not exact (for example, saying "car" when you mean "truck").

  • Global aphasia: Results from a stroke and affects an extensive portion of the front and back regions of the left hemisphere. Patients may have difficulty understanding and/or forming words and sentences.

"The severity can vary, but all forms make it really hard for someone to be the person they were before," Dr. Dellorso said.

What may trigger aphasia?

The most common cause of aphasia is a stroke, according to Dr. Dellorso. Other potential causes include seizures, a tumor, brain trauma, or a type of dementia that predominantly affects how you are able to speak (primary progressive aphasia).

Is it rare?

Aphasia is a common after-effect of a stroke, but is uncommon among the general population. If someone experiences a sudden onset of the symptoms, it's a warning sign he or she may be suffering from a stroke and you should call 911 immediately. If the symptoms appear over time, you should contact your primary care physician for evaluation.

Can you cure or treat aphasia?

"Since there are many causes of aphasia, the treatments vary depending on the diagnosis," said Dr. Dellorso. "Everything from medications to surgery can be helpful, but the mainstay of treatment almost always involves working with a speech therapist anywhere from a few days to a few months."

Can it be prevented?

"Focusing on reducing the risk of stroke would be my main recommendation, since that's the most common cause," said Dr. Dellorso. "This includes controlling your blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol, making sure you're following up with your primary care doctor, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly."

Recognizing the signs of a stroke is important, as the faster you are treated, the more likely you are to recover with fewer long-term side effects. Remember, BE FAST:

  • Balance: Is there a sudden loss of balance or coordination?
  • Eyes: Is there persistent blurred vision and/or sudden trouble seeing?
  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

If you or a loved one is beginning to have difficulty speaking, understanding others or reading, contact your primary care physician or Baptist Neurology for evaluation. If there's a sudden onset of these symptoms, call 911 immediately, as it could be an indication of a stroke. For more information, visit baptist.com/stroke.

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