No products in the cart.

Understanding Damage to Wernicke’s Area: Symptoms and Treatment

medical illustration of brain with wernicke's area damage highlighted in center

Damage to Wernicke’s area of the brain can cause a unique type of language disorder known as fluent aphasia. With this disorder, a person can speak phrases that sound fluent (have a lot of words) but lack meaning.

In today’s article, we’ll discuss the function of Wernicke’s area plus the effects damage to it can cause. You’ll also learn different ways to manage communication difficulties.

What is Wernicke’s Area?

Wernicke’s area was discovered by a neurologist named Carl Wernicke who investigated the effects of brain damage on different aphasia patients. Some patients, he noticed, were able to speak but could not comprehend language. They also used several nonsense words and phrases, without seeming to realize it.

When examining the brains of these patients, Wernicke discovered that they all had lesions in the left hemisphere of their brains. Specifically, the lesions were found near the back of the left temporal lobe.

This region is now known as Wernicke’s area and is thought to control a person’s understanding of spoken and written words.

Symptoms of Damage to Wernicke’s Area

Two pawns on light blue background. The speech bubble above one pawn is full of scribbled lines to represent the garbled speech of someone with damage to Wernicke's area

Damage to Wernicke’s area can result in receptive or fluent aphasia, also known as Wernicke’s aphasia.

Unlike more common types of aphasia, Wernicke’s aphasia does not affect a person’s ability to produce words. Rather, they have lost their ability to grasp the meaning of words.

Some other symptoms of Wernicke’s aphasia include:

  • Producing sentences that do not make sense.
  • Speaking in a way that sounds normal but lacks meaning, as if they are speaking another language.
  • Difficulty understanding others
  • Inability to repeat words or phrases
  • Difficulties with reading and writing

Here’s a video of a patient with Wernicke’s aphasia, where you can see what fluent aphasia sounds like:

In addition, many patients with Wernicke’s aphasia do not realize they have any problems with speech. As a result, they might express confusion or frustration when you don’t understand them.

Recognizing Wernicke’s Aphasia

Damage to Wernicke’s area is not associated with other cognitive or physical disabilities. Because it’s location is farther back in the brain, the motor cortex is usually intact.

For example, patients with Wernicke’s aphasia typically do not struggle with left neglect, and they can still walk and perform many activities of daily living on their own.

As a result, the person can appear to not have any disabilities, and is not easily recognized as a brain injury or stroke survivor. Therefore, when they speak, others often assume they have a mental health problem. They are also often mislabeled as intoxicated.

That’s why it is important for family members to familiarize themselves with this type of aphasia. If you recognize the symptoms, you can seek treatment.

Want 20 pages of brain injury recovery tips in PDF form? Click here to download our free ebook “15 Things Every TBI Survivor Must Know” (link opens a pop up for uninterrupted reading)

Stages of Recovery from Wernicke’s Aphasia

Wernicke’s aphasia sometimes recedes on its own. However, it can be hard to evaluate the person’s progress if you do not understand the hierarchy of recovery.

This describes the typical progression of Wernicke’s aphasia from its most severe form to mild impairment. The following stages illustrate what recovery often looks like:

  • Stage 1: Very confused, with minimal understanding of written or spoken words. Speech is often garbled and nonsensical.
  • Stage 2: Confusion decreases, but speech is still garbled. They may begin to get frustrated when others cannot understand them.
  • Stage 3: They can now understand words in highly-contextual settings. For example, if you point to a salt shaker and ask if they want some, they might understand you.
  • Stage 4: Their speech now has normal rhythm and intonation, but the words they use are still nonsense. Their understanding has also improved a little.
  • Stage 5: Patient now realizes that what they think they say is not always what they actually say. They also will start to use more real words at this point.
  • Stage 6: The patient can now echo spoken words and read single words.
  • Stage 7: Speech begins to make sense and the person uses real words appropriately. They might still struggle to find specific words, however.

Everyone progresses at their own rate and may not follow these stages precisely. Still, these stages can help you understand what to expect.

Managing Wernicke’s Aphasia

Wernicke’s aphasia requires a different therapy approach than traditional aphasia. You should work closely with a speech therapist to create a recovery program that fits your loved one’s needs.

In the meantime, the following are a few tactics you can use to make communication a bit easier:

  • Use gestures
  • Draw pictures
  • Write down important words
  • Talk about things that are contextually relevant, such as “do you want a drink?”
  • Slow your speech to give them time to process
  • Be close enough that they can hear you

When using these tactics, be careful not to use a tone or phrasing that you would use with a child. While the person may not understand your words right now, they can usually still detect condescension in your voice and facial expressions. Therefore, continue to speak to them as an adult.

Understanding Damage to Wernicke’s Area

Damage to Wernicke’s area can cause a person to lose their ability to understand language. They also will struggle to produce meaningful words and phrases.

This is often frustrating for the person, as they usually do not understand why others are confused by their words. Fortunately, this type of aphasia usually fades as their brain heals.

As the person is healing, a speech therapist can suggest tactics to increase the person’s communication skills.  

We hope this article helps you better understand the effects of damage to Wernicke’s area and how to manage them.

Keep it going: Do you know these 15 essential TBI recovery tips?

If you like our content, you’ll love our ebook and newsletters! Get instant access to our TBI recovery tips ebook with 20 pages of helpful advice by signing up below.

You’ll also receive our emails that share survivor stories and more useful TBI recovery tips, which you can opt out of at any time. (We know you’ll love them, too.)

We will never sell your email address, and we never spam. That we promise.

More Ways to Recover with Flint Rehab:

Download Free TBI Recovery Tips!

15 Things Every TBI Survivor Must Know

Discover Award-Winning Neurorehab Tools

You're on a Roll: Read More Popular Articles on TBI Recovery

Do you want to sharpen your cognitive skills after a TBI?

Time with a speech therapist is extremely valuable during recovery, especially if you struggle with communication, critical thinking, or memory after brain injury. Insurance typically covers speech therapy for a fixed amount of time. But once it’s over, recovery is in your hands.

That’s why two speech therapists came together to create the CT Speech & Cognitive therapy app. It contains over 100,000 cognitive exercises that are all available right from your phone or tablet. 

This app is the perfect fit if you want to improve your speaking, memory, or general mental sharpness. Best of all, it’s affordable at just $29.99/month.

Click here to learn more about the CT app »

See what Miriam said about the CT Speech & Cognitive Therapy app:

“For the past 6 months, my son has used the app about three times a week. The app is like a virtual therapist, it’s very easy to use, and it gives him immediate feedback.

He now understands things faster, can make decisions with less hesitation, has improved recognition of words, and his confidence is higher. I also find it easy to get in touch with customer service; they pleasantly help out. The whole experience has been great.”

— Miriam

It’s like having a virtual speech therapist available anytime you want

With the CT App, you can get the guidance you need right from your phone or tablet. You can use it on your own or in between sessions with your speech therapist.

Whether you struggle with aphasia, memory loss, or critical thinking, the CT Speech & Cognitive Therapy App can help.

“The CT app has helped me gather my confidence by building on and reinforcing old forgotten skills. It helps to see my percentages increase, and work harder when they decrease. It’s very self-motivating.” -Kathryn

We are confident that this app will help improve your speech and cognitive function after brain injury. Like our recovery tools, the CT App is also covered by our 30-day money-back guarantee.

15 Things Every TBI Survivor Must Know

Do you know these 15 TBI recovery tips?

Get a free copy of our ebook 15 Things Every TBI Survivor Must Know. Click here to get instant access.