Understanding Aphasia


Aphasia [ a-fay-shuh ] is a communication difficulty caused by brain injury. It can also be called ‘dysphasia’.

Aphasia is a language difficulty caused by injury to the brain (usually stroke). Aphasia can also be caused by other neurological disorders affecting the part of the brain that is important for language eg. tumours, aneurysms, head injuries. There are also progressive forms of aphasia.

Imagine waking one day to find you could not speak or understand what was being said to you, read the paper or even write your name, but you are thinking normally! How frustrating would it be to have your communication suddenly taken away?

This is the experience of people with APHASIA.

There are over 120,000 Australians who are affected by aphasia.

People with aphasia may have difficulty with:

  • Talking
  • Understanding what others say
  • Social situations
  • Reading
  • Writing

Aphasia can vary in type and severity.

How aphasia affects people’s lives

Language forms the basis of most things we do. Many practical tasks can be difficult for someone with aphasia, such as:

  • Talking to friends and family
  • Ordering food in a cafe
  • Watching a movie
  • Talking to the doctor
  • Understanding explanations or instructions
  • Making a phone call
  • Checking and pay bills
  • Filling in forms
  • Using cash or using an ATM
  • Making appointments
  • Following recipes
  • Following maps and signs
  • Buying tickets and using public transport
  • Reading a book for pleasure

Ongoing difficulties

Sadly, aphasia often masks a person’s intelligence and ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

You can liken aphasia to when you are in a foreign country and you cannot understand their language, and cannot express yourself in their language . . . this is what it is like for people with aphasia – they are still competent people who may be unable to show that competency.

Using gesture and facial expression and other non-verbal ways to communicate become important, but can be very frustrating.

Aphasia can affect relationships and self-identity. It can take a long time to adjust to the changes, deal with grief, loss of language, changing roles and possibly changing careers. Previously outgoing people can become withdrawn and depressed.  People with aphasia require ongoing support and friendship to deal with these changes.

Rehabilitation and recovery

There are no existing medications or therapies that can cure aphasia. People with aphasia often get help from a Speech Pathologist. They can help a person relearn communication skills and find other ways to communicate.

No-one can tell how long recovery will take after a brain injury. Recovery can depend on: the location and size of brain injury, age, therapy and motivation.

Recovery is usually quickest in the first 6 months, but can continue for many years. Everyone is different – it is important to stay optimistic and never give up, while also being realistic about recovery.

Tips for communicating with someone who has aphasia

To help understanding:

  • Reduce background noise (turn off radio/TV)
  • Gain the person’s attention
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Talk in short, simple sentences
  • Use gesture
  • Use a normal adult tone of voice
  • Write down key words
  • Don’t jump from topic to topic
  • Be specific

To help them get their message across:

  • Ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no response.
  • Be patient and allow them time to communicate!
  • Encourage the person to point to the item they want, use gesture, use drawing, write it down, use their communication aid, picture board or photos to show what they want to say.
  • Ask what the first letter of the word is, or if they can spell the word, or if they can visualise it.
  • Repeat back what you’ve understood.
  • Acknowledge that they are a competent person and they know what they want to say but can’t say it!

“Imagine Life Without Words”

“Imagine life without words” is a short video for family and friends, to get some insight into what it might be like, to have aphasia when it affects a person’s ability to talk.

“Speaking up about Aphasia

This Video explains what Aphasia is and how Speakability supports and empowers people with Aphasia and their families and carers. Speakability Group members share their experiences too. [UK]

Watch “Speaking up about Aphasia” on YouTube

“Open Door: Aphasia” – Part 1

Imagine waking up one morning unable to speak or even write down what you want to say. Aphasia damages the ability to use and understand language while leaving the intellect intact. Most often caused by a stroke, this disorder can have a devastating effect on people’s lives — and it’s as common as Parkinson’s disease with around 5 new cases every day. [NZ]