Aphasia is a communication disorder caused by damage to the language centres of the brain. Stroke is the most common cause of such damage; others include head injury and diseases affecting the brain. Symptoms of aphasia depend on which part or parts of the brain are affected, and how severe the damage is.
This forms the basis of aphasia treatment, and studies have shown that the best results are achieved if it is started as soon as possible after aphasia becomes apparent. The type of speech therapy required will vary between individuals depending on the particular difficulties they experience. Therefore the first step in aphasia treatment is for a speech and language therapist (SLT) to assess the patient's needs and strengths. The therapist can then devise a personalised treatment programme.
Patients who have problems with speaking and expressing themselves will initially be given tasks such as naming objects or pictures, repeating words spoken to them or deciding whether words rhyme. As they progress they will move on from speaking single words to sentence construction.
Patients whose difficulty is in understanding language may be asked to match words to pictures, or to group words with similar connotations. These tasks help patients relearn word meanings in both spoken and written language.
There are also interactive computer based exercises available, which the patient can use either during or in addition to sessions with their SLT. These are most effective if they can be tailored to the patient's individual needs.
The patient will also be taught to express themselves in alternative ways, such as by
Calming techniques or medication can be useful in cases where stress and frustration are holding back patients' progress.
Procedures to enhance brain function using drugs or non-invasive electrical stimulation have also been shown to have some benefit when used alongside conventional speech therapy, but these treatments are still experimental.
With such a potentially disruptive condition, it is important that aphasia treatment involves the patient's carers and family members. The SLT will teach them the best techniques for communicating with their loved one, and may also ask them to help the patient with their language exercises at home, if appropriate.
Additionally, some specialist charities provide services such as support groups, where aphasia sufferers can practise their communication skills in a social and supportive setting.