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Learning to Read Again After Brain Injury (Overcoming Pure Alexia)

Young man helping friend learn to read again after brain injury

Some brain injuries may impair the reading ability of previously literate adults. This condition, known as pure alexia, can be very frustrating. However, it is possible to learn how to read again after brain injury.

Today’s article will define the causes and symptoms of pure alexia, as well as provide strategies for learning to read again after brain injury.

How Brain Injury Impairs Reading

Letters coming out of head. On wooden background. Alexia illustration


Pure alexia impairs a person’s ability to comprehend the written word. It occurs after an injury to the rear part of the brain’s left hemisphere.

One aspect of alexia is that people with this condition may still have the ability to listen, speak, and write as they did before their injury, but are unable to read, even if it’s something they wrote themselves.

This fact has led researchers to propose that pure alexia is not a language disorder as one would expect, but a visual processing disorder.

In addition, alexia patients often struggle to recognize numbers and certain objects. This supports the idea that alexia is a visual impairment.

Fortunately, it’s possible for many alexia patients to slowly retrain the brain to read entire words again.

Learning to Read Again After Brain Injury

woman learning how to read after brain injury

There are several strategies speech therapists use to help people with alexia after a brain injury learn how to read again.

Since every brain injury is unique, every person will respond differently to treatment. You may need to have the person try various approaches before finding the most effective one.

1. “Sound out” letters

This program involves sounding out letters, then learning how to string them together, much like how the person initially learned to read when they were young.

Attention is focused on combination sounds (such as “th” “ch” and “sh”).

With practice, the brain begins to rewire and recover the ability to read. Most of the time, the person’s reading speed may be slower than it was before the injury, but it allows them to recapture the skill of reading.

2. Tactile/kinesthetic treatment

For patients with severe alexia, even simply recognizing and sounding out a letter is difficult.

In these cases, therapists may help the person learn letters using other senses than vision, such as their sense of touch.

The tactile/kinesthetic treatment teaches the person to trace a letter they see onto their hand. By tracing it, the person is able to recognize the letter and what sound it makes.

Over time, the patient works their way to naming each letter in a word, and finally saying the word.

This method is slow and time-consuming, but it is effective. In this study, two of the three patients improved from being unable to name a single letter to reading full sentences.

3. Multiple Oral Reading

This therapy is for more advanced alexia patients who can still read words, just slowly.

Therapists have the patient re-read a text out loud for 30 minutes every day for one week. Then they give the patient a new text and start over.

In one study conducted for two months, patients showed significant improvements in their reading speeds by the end of the study.

Other Strategies to Improve Reading After Brain Injury

book with headphones symbolizing learning to read again after brain injury

If the above therapies do not work, there are still other ways to help someone read again after brain injury.

Some TBI patients might benefit from adaptive technology designed to help visually-impaired people.

For example, there are free programs available that convert online text to voice, which helps the person read websites. There is also technology that is able to scan physical books and translate them into speech.

If you can read but have difficulty focusing your eyes, cutting a small “window” out of a piece of paper and placing it over the page you want to read may be successful. This allows you to focus on one word at a time without losing your place.

For patients with visual field loss that impairs reading, Read-Right is a free, online therapy program that may boost your reading speed.

A speech therapist may provide additional strategies to read again after brain injury.

How to Read Again After Brain Injury

Learning to read again after brain injury may be a long process, but speech therapy treatments provide guidance on the road to recovery for reading.

As with healing related to the brain, perseverance is the key to success. If you know someone who can’t read since their injury, encourage them to try the different strategies in this article every day.

Daily reading exercises suggested in this article rewires the brain to create the neural pathways needed to read successfully. This phenomenon is called neuroplasticity, and it’s the primary way the brain repairs itself after injury. Good luck!

Featured Image: ©iStock/MangoStar_Studio

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Get Inspired with This TBI Recovery Story

Independance, motivation and hope!

“My son Sharat suffered a severe traumatic brain injury 23 years ago leaving him with Aphasia and right sided weakness from his vision,hearing to his limbs. The lockdown in June was a great challenge for him as his caregivers stopped coming, no gym workouts and no outings for a coffee.

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Sharat’s review of FitMi home therapy, 10/10/2020

5 stars

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