A stroke can happen to anyone at any age, but is more common in the elderly. It is caused by a blood clot or bleed in the brain. The parts of the brain that control our language, speech and communication are spread out across the brain, but many are found on the left side. Having worked with people who have had a stroke both in the NHS and in private practice I have witnessed how devastating a stroke can affect a person’s communication, but have also seen people recover well.
Aphasia, or dysphasia, is the medical word for language problems caused by a stroke. A person may have difficulties understanding what is said to them, reading, understanding what objects are, gestures or facial expression. They may have problems expressing themselves through the spoken word, writing, drawing or using gestures. Some may speak in long, rambling utterances unaware that they are not making sense. People may lose whole grammatical parts of their lexicon (words) such as verbs or nouns, or specific groups of words.. such as words related to the body, vegetables, places. Language disorders after a stroke have fascinated researchers for years due to what it can teach us about the brain.
However, for the person affected by the stroke, their friends and loved ones it can be devastating and frustrating. People often become isolated and depressed by their difficulties to communicate. Speech and Language Therapists and charities such as CONNECT, Headway and the Stroke Association do wonderful work to help people rebuild their communication and lives.
Therapy for aphasia includes both ‘impairment’ based therapy (doing exercises to rebuild the neural connections) and ‘functional’ based therapy (using a total communication approach to get one’s message across through drawing, gestures, writing, speech, apps, communication aids etc). Therapy usually includes family and friends to help them be effective communication partners.
It is not uncommon for the first few weeks and months to see rapid improvement in the language after a stroke as the brain begins to heal. Improvements after that can be slow but steady. The individual may experience low mood, fatigue and lability (emotions swaying dramatically) for some time, but this usually passes. Patience is key.
If you are interested in therapy for aphasia please contact the clinic or get in touch with the wonderful charities that support those who have aphasia.