Struggling with Aphasia and How Aphasia Apps Can Help
Your friend or loved one has just suffered a stroke or brain injury. Somebody in a white coat has told you the person you care about now has aphasia. You gather from their explanation that your loved one will most likely have difficulty communicating, but you’re not exactly sure what that will mean.
But one thing is for sure—you know that their life, and possibly yours, is about to change forever.
If you have a loved one or friend who has been suddenly diagnosed with aphasia, you may find yourself in a situation similar to the one described above.
And even if caring for someone with aphasia has been part of your life for a while now, you may still be struggling to understand exactly what life is like for someone living with aphasia.
I hope this post gives you a little insight into the daily struggle that is life with aphasia.
Aphasia–which can result from a brain injury such as a stroke, a neurological issue like a brain tumor, or a head injury—is an impairment of language affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write.
Aphasia can affect all forms of communication, sometimes profoundly. But there are multiple ways aphasia can manifest, and the effects range from milder (yet still extremely frustrating) symptoms to a near-total inability to understand words or produce recognizable words.
Common Types of Aphasia
A number of types of aphasia have been identified, depending on the location of the brain injury and the resulting effects. Here are some of the more common types:
1. You Know What You Want to Say, but They Can’t Understand You
This form goes by several names: Fluent Aphasia, Receptive Aphasia, or Wernicke’s Aphasia (for Wernicke’s area, the part of the brain responsible for understanding the meaning of words and spoken language, which is the area affected in this type of aphasia). Although the general public knows little about aphasia, this may be the form most familiar to the uninitiated.
People with this diagnosis are able to speak, sometimes fluently, and are fully aware of the meaning of the words they wish to use. However, their speech is often a verbal “word jumble,” with irrelevant words intruding.
The content of their sentences is the major issue. The words that come out of their mouth may not make any sense to the listener. They may choose the wrong words, or they may use words that simply don’t exist.
Conversations can be further complicated with fluent aphasia because the speaker is often unaware that the words they have said are entirely different than the ones they intended to say. It can, of course, be extremely frustrating for the speaker when they think they’ve said something intelligible, but the other person can’t understand what they’ve said.
In addition to these challenges with speaking, the ability to grasp the meaning of spoken words is also impaired, so people with Wernicke’s Aphasia will often have trouble understanding what someone is saying to them.
In this type of aphasia, reading and writing are often severely impaired, as well.
2. Words That Were Once There Seem to Be Gone
In some cases, an individual’s speech and vocabulary are extremely limited. The words they once knew just don’t seem to be available to them anymore. This is known as Non-Fluent Aphasia or Broca’s Aphasia (for Broca’s area, the part of the brain affected).
Individuals dealing with Non-Fluent Aphasia are typically only able to speak in phrases shorter than four words. Their vocabularies are very small. Reading and writing will also be a challenge, especially writing.
Understanding someone else’s speech is typically not a problem for these people.
3. It’s Always on the Tip of the Tongue
Some cases of aphasia leave a person able to speak and read relatively fluently. However, it can often be a struggle to find the right word for the subject or specific item they’re currently talking about. As a result, their speech is full of vague words (like “thing” instead of the name of the thing) and expressions of frustration.
They understand speech well, and in most cases, they can read adequately. However, finding the right words to use in their writing is as difficult as it is in their speech.
This particular set of symptoms is known as Anomic Aphasia
We’ve all had those moments where the word was on “the tip of our tongue,” and we know how frustrating that can be. Imagine fighting that verbal battle all the time!
4. All Language Seems Lost
The most severe form of aphasia, Global Aphasia, results in individuals only being able to speak a few recognizable words. Comprehension of spoken language is also extremely limited. The ability to read or write is also lost.
Those living with Global Aphasia find themselves trapped in a world were communicating through standard language is not an option.
Global Aphasia may often be seen immediately after someone has suffered a stroke, and it may rapidly improve if the damage has not been too extensive. However, with greater brain damage, the condition may be permanent.
5. Language is Lost Slowly Over Time
There is another type of aphasia, Primary Progressive Aphasia, whose origins are different than the four types described above.
In Primary Progressive Aphasia, language capabilities are slowly and progressively impaired. Unlike other forms of aphasia caused by a stroke or brain injury, PPA is caused by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration. The language impairment is usually subtle to start with, but the slow deterioration of brain tissue important for speech and language causes the person to lose the ability to communicate over time.
With PPA, the type of language deficit may differ from patient to patient. The initial language disturbance may be Fluent Aphasia (i.e., the person may have normal or even increased rate of word production) or Non-Fluent Aphasia (speech becomes effortful and the person produces fewer words). A less common variety begins with impaired word-finding (Anomic Aphasia) and progressive deterioration of naming and comprehension, with relatively preserved articulation.
As with aphasia that results from stroke or brain trauma, the manifestations of PPA depend on what parts of the brain are relatively more damaged at any given point in the illness. Eventually, almost all patients become mute and unable to understand spoken or written language, even if their behavior seems otherwise normal.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Apps for Aphasia: Which Types of Aphasia Can They Be Helpful For?
As you see from the above descriptions, patients suffering from communication disorders aren’t all alike. As a result, they need different types of care and help.
Aphasia apps for iPads or AAC Android apps are very helpful for many people who can’t talk well, while other people struggling with aphasia aren’t good candidates for such AAC apps.
For example, those people with Global Aphasia aren’t going to be helped by AAC apps. The brain damage is just too severe. It’s possible that some people suffering from Fluent Aphasia might find AAC apps helpful, but it’s not likely.
Those with Non-Fluent Aphasia, Anomic Aphasia, and some people with Primary Progressive Aphasia, on the other hand, may be greatly helped by an app like APP2Speak. The reason this is the case is that, in addition to providing a means for communicating, an AAC app helps provide both visual (photos) and auditory cues (speech output).
For example, App2Speak has both photos and words that act as visual cues. The speech/voice output also provides auditory cues.
Sometimes these cues help to reinforce or stimulate the person’s speech, with the potential of using their own speech for communication over time. In other words, AAC can help bridge the gap for communication while the person is receiving additional speech therapy.
AAC can also be temporary, or it can be a permanent means of communication.
As an example of a temporary use of AAC, a person with Primary Progressive Aphasia might use App2Speak on an as-needed basis. His own speech works, but sometimes it breaks down and others don’t understand. In these situations, he can use APP2Speak to communicate.
Obviously, whether your friend or loved one with aphasia would benefit from the use of AAC technology such as App2Speak depends on the type and severity of aphasia they’re struggling with.
If you believe APP2Speak might be helpful in your situation, take a look at our How It Works page to learn more.