“Why can’t I communicate?”

Imagine knowing what you want to say but being unable to produce the words.  Imagine hearing words that others say but being unable to understand them.  These are difficulties that may confront people living with aphasia. 

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person’s language skills.  The production or comprehension of speech, reading, or writing may be difficult for someone with aphasia.  It is important to note that aphasia does not affect a person’s intelligence.  Accessing ideas and thoughts through language may range from a mild impairment to being so severe as to make communication extremely difficult.  Aphasia manifests itself in a variety of ways and combinations.

The most common cause of aphasia is stroke.  In fact, 25-40% of stroke survivors acquire aphasia. (www.aphasia.org)  However, aphasia can also occur when someone experiences head trauma, brain tumors, or infections.  Language capabilities can also become slowly and progressively impaired with no known neurological trauma.  This is known as Primary Progressive Aphasia.

Aphasia affects about one million Americans and is more common than Parkinson’s disease or cerebral palsy. (www.aphasia.org)  Aphasia can occur at any age and affects people of all races, nationalities, and gender.

Although there is no cure for aphasia, speech-language pathologists can significantly help the individual with aphasia and their families/friends learn strategies to improve communication.  Language skills can continue to improve over a period of years after the initial brain injury.  Some individuals with aphasia are able to return to work and many others continue to participate in activities they enjoyed prior to their brain injury.

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month.  The ECU Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic provides individual evaluations and treatment sessions for individuals with aphasia.  An aphasia group also meets each Friday during the semester for individuals with aphasia to practice their communication skills and enjoy interactions with others.  Call 252-744-6104 for more information.

Sherri Winslow, MS, CCC-SLP
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders