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Can Aphasia be Cured?

Posted Dec 19 2009 12:00am
How Long Will the Condition Caused by Stoke or TBI Last?

Dec 19, 2009 Sara E. Lewis

A sudden stoke or traumatic brain injury can be life-altering for many reasons. One of the most frustrating can be the loss of aspects of the ability to communicate with others, called aphasia.
Aphasia occurs when an area of the brain responsible for language is damaged, most often due to stoke or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Although the loss usually occurs suddenly, aphasia may also progress slowly as a result of brain tumor, dementia or infection. Aphasia may occur at the same time as speech disorders related to coordination and voluntary muscle movement.

It is estimated that about one million people currently have aphasia. The majority of cases result from stroke, usually when a fragment from a blood clot breaks off and travels to the brain. About one-third of people with severe TBI experience aphasia.

How is Aphasia Diagnosed?

When the language centers of the brain are damaged due to the lack of blood and death of brain cells (stroke) or a blow to the head (TBI), aphasia expresses itself as lack of ability to say what one is thinking and inability to recognize or write words. Neurologists and speech therapists gain information about which area of the brain was injured by the type of language mistakes made or the patient’s awareness of language mistakes. They examine aspects of the patient’s ability to speak, understand, and converse.

How Should Caregivers Treat Stoke or TBI Patients with Aphasia?

The most effective treatment is delivered early in the recovery process. Beyond this, caregivers should help the patient use the language skills that he or she still has more effectively. Therapy includes training a person to compensate for skills that are lacking and developing other means of communicating, as with facial expressions or hand movements.

Caregivers can observe therapists, ask questions, and learn as much as possible about useful techniques in order to provide help and continue skill-building exercises with the patient between visits to the therapist. Family involvement is useful and critical: the caregiver is very familiar with the patient and may be able to “read” him or her in ways that the therapist cannot.

According to the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Deafness & Other Communication Disorders family should:

  • Simplify language. Use short, uncomplicated sentences.
  • Repeat important words or write them down to clarify meaning.
  • Talk to the patient in a tone that would normally be used. Maintain a natural conversational manner.
  • Minimize distractions, such as a radio or television.
  • Include the person with aphasia in conversations.
  • Ask for and value the opinion of the person with aphasia, especially regarding family matters.
  • Encourage any type of communication, whether it is speech, gesture, pointing, or drawing.
  • Avoid correcting the person’s speech.
  • Allow the person plenty of time to talk.
  • Help the person become involved outside the home. Seek out support groups.

When Will a Stoke or TBI Patient Get Better?

If the brain cells are resupplied with blood in a few minutes after a stoke (of the type where a portion of a blood clot has broken off and made its way to the brain, called a transient ischemic attack) or is a TBI was mild, language skills may return spontaneously within a few hours or a few days. According to the National Aphasia Association, half of those who acquire aphasia recover completely.

In other cases, a portion of the language skill returns but some aphasia remains. Speech-therapy can be continued so that more skill will return over the course of the next year or two.

Whether or not and to what level a person will recover is largely dependent upon the area of the brain that was damaged, the severity of damage, and the age and health of the individual. Stoke or TBI patients who are motivated and have a higher level of education and care generally recover best.

There is currently no medicine or drug known to cure aphasia. Surgery is not useful in cases of aphasia following stroke. Surgery has been successful in those occasions where pressure from a brain tumor or a hematoma (collection of blood outside the blood vessels usually due to internal bleeding) impacts a critical speech center.

As stated above, stroke survivors and persons with TBI enjoy more rapid recovery and a better quality of life when helpful and compassionate family members involve themselves in the recovery process.

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