Global aphasia is the most severe type of aphasia caused by extensive damage to the language areas of the brain. Fortunately, it’s often possible to recover communication skills through rehabilitation.
In this article, we will look at the causes and symptoms of global aphasia and common treatment options.
Use the following links to jump to sections you wish to read:
- Causes of Global Aphasia
- Symptoms of Global Aphasia
- Is Global Aphasia Permanent?
- How Rehabilitation Works for Global Aphasia
- Constraint-Induced Language Therapy
- Transcranial Stimulation for Aphasia Patients
- Global Aphasia Does Not Mean Loss of Intelligence
Causes of Global Aphasia
Global aphasia is caused by severe damage to both Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area of the brain.
These two areas play a crucial role in understanding and producing language. They are found in the dominant side of the brain which, for most people, is the left hemisphere.
The most common causes of damage to these areas that can lead to global aphasia include:
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Brain tumor
- Infections, such as meningitis
Global aphasia can cause several distinct symptoms, which we will discuss next.
Symptoms of Global Aphasia
Global aphasia can cause symptoms that affect every aspect of a person’s communication abilities. For example, a person with global aphasia may struggle with the following communication skills:
- Difficulty speaking in complete sentences
- Trouble repeating speech
- Uttering simple words
- Making grammatical mistakes
- Using the incorrect words or phrases
- Trouble understanding others
- Difficulty understanding fast speech
- Needing more time to understand spoken words
People with global aphasia also often cannot read or write. Sometimes they can answer basic yes or no questions, but in many cases that skill has been lost. Some patients can also communicate in automatic phrases such as “excuse me” but phrases with more complexity are often too difficult.
However, global aphasia patients can still communicate using facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. While this provides another way to communicate, keep in mind that it’s possible to rehabilitate communication skills after a stroke or brain injury.
Before we discuss the rehabilitation methods for global aphasia, let’s answer a common question:
Is Global Aphasia Permanent?
Some forms of global aphasia are only temporary and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. This is known as transient global aphasia.
Severe migraines, seizures, and concussions are the most common causes of transient aphasia. Mini strokes (also known as transient ischemic attacks) are temporary blood clots in the brain that can also cause short-term aphasia.
Transient global aphasia will fade once the brain has had a chance to recover. If, however, the global aphasia was caused by a severe stroke or brain injury, it may require intensive treatment to recover speech.
Fortunately, the brain possesses a remarkable ability to bounce back from injury by rewiring itself to compensate for damaged brain tissue. This process is called neuroplasticity, and it refers to the brain’s ability to create and strengthen neural pathways in the brain.
Even if a stroke severely damages the brain regions that normally control language production, it’s still possible for other areas to compensate.
Rehabilitation for global aphasia relies upon neuroplasticity to spark changes in the brain and encourage the patient to rebuild the skill of language and communication. We’ll take a deeper look next.
How Rehabilitation Works for Global Aphasia
Global aphasia recovery may be more difficult than other types of aphasia, but it is still possible.
The best way to overcome aphasia is through speech therapy. Speech therapy exercises work by activating neuroplasticity by practicing language/communication exercises on a regular basis.
If global aphasia is severe, it’s ideal to practice speech therapy daily. This provides the brain with the intensive stimulation it needs to rewire itself and attempt to regain the skills of language and communication.
Patients with global aphasia are highly encouraged to work with experts called Speech-Language Pathologists during rehabilitation. These speech therapists are able to diagnose your unique language difficulties and prescribe exercises tailored to your ability level.
At home, your speech therapist may encourage daily speech therapy by using apps, such as the CT Speech & Cognitive Therapy App. It contains thousands of exercises to help patients recover from aphasia, and it prescribes the right ones based on your unique needs.
Because global aphasia is often a severe condition, it works best to use speech therapy apps with the guidance of your speech therapist. It’s a great way to stay engaged in therapy between visits to your speech therapist.
Constraint-Induced Language Therapy
The most effective speech therapy exercise for treating global aphasia is constraint-induced language therapy.
Constraint Induced Language Therapy was designed to help people with severe aphasia regain speaking skills. It is based on the same principles as the popular Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy program (CIMT).
The goal of CIMT is to force the person to engage their weak limb by eliminating compensatory tactics. As they practice this movement, the brain can relearn how to use the affected limb again and the patient should begin to regain arm function.
The same principles apply to Constraint-Induced Language Therapy. With this speech therapy method, a patient must:
- Avoid using tactics such as gestures or writing
- Communicate only by speaking
- Practice heavily for at least one hour per day.
This type of speech therapy can be difficult and aggressive, but your effort won’t be overlooked. With enough practice, you can activate neuroplasticity and should see improvements in your speech.
Transcranial Stimulation for Aphasia Patients
While speech therapy is still the most effective treatment for global aphasia, there are also some newer developments.
For example, studies on transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) show some promising results. With TMS, neurologists hold a magnetic coil over the patient’s scalp. Then, they pass a powerful electric current through the coil, which creates a magnetic field that passes through the skull and stimulates the brain.
This stimulation triggers a significant boost neuroplasticity. Therefore, when combined with speech therapy exercises such as CILT, the magnetic stimulation can increase its effectiveness.
Think of magnetic brain stimulation as a kickstart to neuroplasticity. You will still have to do the work yourself, but TMS can ease the burden.
Before we wrap up this article, we’d like to share a note of compassion for loved ones with global aphasia.
Global Aphasia Does Not Mean Loss of Intelligence
If you know someone with global aphasia, it’s critical to understand that global aphasia does not mean loss of intelligence.
Global aphasia causes a person to lose their ability to communicate. Not only can they not speak what is on their mind, they also struggle to understand others. This can be a very isolating experience, and many patients can develop depression as a result.
This makes it important for family members and loved ones to recognize that a person with aphasia has not lost their intelligence. Although they can no longer communicate, their intellectual faculties are still present.
Therefore, when interacting with aphasia patients, talk to them as you normally would. They might have trouble understanding you, but they can recognize your tone of voice.
It might, however, help to use simpler words and shorter sentences. This can allow the person to have a better chance at understanding you. Also, try to avoid shouting, as your loved one likely does not have hearing difficulties — they just need more time to process.
Talk to a speech therapist for more helpful tips on how to communicate with someone with severe aphasia.
Conclusion: Overcoming Global Aphasia
Global aphasia occurs after extensive damage to the language centers of the brain. It affects every aspect of a person’s communication abilities, from speaking and understanding others to the ability read and write.
Recovery from aphasia will require intensive therapy. Therefore it is critical to persevere with your exercises. If you need extra assistance, speech therapy apps can help motivate you to practice your exercises and progress on your road to recovery. Good luck!