What You Need to Know About Aphasia

Published June 10, 2016

Think for a moment about all of the things you did within the very first hour of your day that required you to express yourself or understand the words of others. Perhaps you said goodbye to your spouse or listened to the weather report. You may have read your email or written a list of things to do.

It would be difficult to imagine any part of your day in which you did not give or receive some form of communication. But for many people who’ve had a stroke, brain injury or neurological illness, aphasia has made an inability to communicate an unfortunate reality.

June is Aphasia Awareness Month. Aphasia is an acquired language disorder that can affect a person’s ability to generate or comprehend verbal or written language, while leaving intellect intact. It’s the result of damage to parts of the brain that control language functions. We’ve all had that “tip-of-the-tongue” feeling of not being able to find a word, or not being sure if we’ve understood someone correctly. For people with aphasia, however, these can be unrelenting occurrences.

Aphasia affects approximately 80,000 stroke victims per year, yet people with the disorder often find they are an “unheard of” population. Depression and social isolation are common in people with aphasia, particularly if they are not participating in speech therapy or support groups regularly. Caregivers are profoundly affected when their loved one has aphasia as well. They may feel the burden of having to “do all the talking” and may miss the intimacy of shared conversation.

Speech-language pathologists at Burke and in rehabilitation centers worldwide have studied and implemented many types of speech therapy for people with aphasia. Treatment is usually customized to the individual’s needs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. However, this is an exciting time in aphasia research. Scientists are investigating methods to change the way the brain recovers. The ability of the brain to adapt or change is known as “brain plasticity.” Experimental techniques such as non-invasive brain stimulation that promote brain plasticity are now being investigated for aphasia recovery, as are other forms of intensive aphasia treatment.

As I’ve often told patients and families I work with at Burke, recovery doesn’t stop when speech therapy ends. Aphasia groups available at Burke and within the community provide a non-judgmental, supportive environment for continued language recovery. Additionally, there are non-profit organizations and websites designed to assist people with aphasia and their loved ones.

For information about speech therapy and aphasia groups at Burke, or to learn about local resources for people with aphasia, contact Burke’s Outpatient Speech Department at (914) 597-2288.

For other resources and information regarding aphasia, visit:

—Susan Wortman-Jutt, MS, CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist in the Outpatient Speech Department at Burke Rehabilitation Center 

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