Aphasia is a very common side effect of traumatic brain injury.
It can affect both your ability to speak and understand what others are saying.
In this article, we’ll give you everything you need to know about aphasia after TBI.
We’ll cover the different types of aphasia, the symptoms of each type, and how you can successfully manage aphasia after TBI.
Let’s get started.
What Causes Aphasia after TBI?
Aphasia is a speech disorder that results from a left side brain injury.
The left side of the brain is responsible for nearly all of your language abilities. This includes not only speaking, but also:
- Understanding the rules of grammar
- Comprehending what others are saying
Aphasia affects all of these abilities, depending on what type of aphasia you develop.
Types of Aphasia after TBI
There are two main categories of aphasia: expressive (non-fluent) aphasia, and receptive (fluent) aphasia.
Expressive aphasia refers to difficulty producing language. If you have frequent trouble finding the right word to say, then you probably have a form of expressive aphasia.
Receptive aphasia on the other hand refers to problems with understanding language. If you have trouble understanding what other people are saying, then you have a form of receptive aphasia.
Receptive aphasia can also affect a person’s ability to read and understand the written word. Many people with this disorder often describe it as though they are trying to read words written in another language.
Within these two categories, there are several different types of aphasia, each with their own characteristics.
1. Wernicke’s Aphasia
The most common type of receptive aphasia is Wernicke’s aphasia. It occurs when the Wernicke’s area of the brain (the part of the brain responsible for language comprehension) is damaged.
One of the hallmarks of Wernicke’s aphasia is the person will often speak in long, convoluted sentences that have no meaning.
This isn’t just long-windedness, the person with Wernicke’s aphasia will use words in the wrong way and even use made-up words. But they will be unaware of their mistakes.
For example, they might ask for a book and say, “Hand me that woodle plunker over on the fubby.” and have no idea that they just used nonsense words.
They also will usually have difficulty understanding what another person is saying, and when asked to repeat what they heard, they cannot do so.
2. Broca’s Aphasia
Broca’s aphasia is the most common form of expressive aphasia.
People with Broca’s aphasia can understand others fine, but have trouble finding words. They usually speak in short sentences that take a lot of effort for them to produce.
For example, they may just say “eat food” instead of “I want to eat dinner.”
Because of the location of Broca’s area on the brain (near the frontal lobe where muscle movement is also controlled.) People with Broca’s aphasia also usually have some form of muscle weakness or paralysis.
3. Global aphasia
The third type of aphasia is global aphasia, and it is the most serious type. It is caused by extensive damage to all the language areas of the brain.
People with global aphasia have severe problems with both producing and understanding language.
They usually cannot utter a single word or may just repeat the same few words and phrases over and over.
Aphasia Does Not Mean Lack of Intelligence
Before moving on to discussing the treatments of aphasia, we want to pause and make something clear: aphasia does not mean lack of intelligence.
The reason you struggle with finding words and understanding others is because you have an injury, not because you have lost any knowledge.
Think of it like having a broken arm or leg. You can’t do some things as easily as before, but that doesn’t – and shouldn’t – reflect negatively on you.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to treat aphasia, which we will look at next.
Treating Aphasia after TBI
To treat any type of aphasia, you will need to retrain your brain to control your speech.
Speech therapy exercises that engage neuroplasticity, the method your brain uses to rewire itself, are the best way to do this.
But to get the most benefit from speech therapy exercises, make an appointment with a speech-language pathologist. (i.e. a speech therapist)
A speech therapist works with all areas of speech recovery and can give you the advice and personalized care you need to recover your speech.
This is especially important if you have Wernicke’s aphasia or any other type of receptive aphasia. Those types of aphasia are more complicated to treat and require a more specific and personal approach.
Managing Aphasia after TBI
While aphasia is treatable, it’s not an instant fix. In the meantime, you are going to need to learn how to manage it and communicate effectively with others.
Here are some steps both you and your loved ones can take to make communication easier.
Advice for family and friends:
- Ask yes or no questions. Family members and friends should try to use yes or no questions as often as possible. This puts less strain on the person with aphasia and will make conversation flow smoother between you two.
- Even when the person is struggling to find the right words, it’s important to listen patiently. Don’t try to put words in their mouth. The best way to beat aphasia is to practice speaking, so you should let them speak as much as possible, even if it is difficult. If you feel like they really need help, ask first before assisting them.
- Sometimes small groups are better. People with aphasia usually avoid crowds because they can be overwhelming, but many feel comfortable interacting in small groups. A small group puts less pressure on the person with aphasia to do all the talking, and allows them to respond when they feel like it. Be sure to include your loved one in conversation and keep them involved, but don’t push them too hard.
Advice for people with aphasia:
- Use pictures and drawings. The left side of the brain controls language, but the right is responsible for non-verbal and visual functions. Meaning the ability to draw and interpret images is usually still intact in people with aphasia. So if communication is especially difficult, try drawing what you mean! You might even consider creating a book full of words, photos and pictures that can assist you with conversations.
- Carry a card with information about aphasia and how to contact your loved ones. This is important for times when you may be alone in public. This way other people will be able to help during emergencies.
These tips should help you successfully manage aphasia after TBI!
How Long Does Aphasia after TBI Last?
After all this, you’re probably wondering how long it will take you to recover from aphasia after TBI.
Every brain injury is different. Some people recover from their aphasia quickly, while others need years of therapy. It all depends on the severity of your TBI.
Since there is no way to know for sure how long your aphasia will last, the best thing you can do is start speech therapy right away and retrain your brain!
Your journey to overcome aphasia might be a long one, but with the right therapy and enough persistence, you have a real hope of recovering your voice after brain injury.