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Exactly What Is Aphasia?

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis

Aphasia Overview

There are several types of aphasia, which affects your ability to communicate. Typically, aphasia occurs following a stroke or head injury, but it can be from a slow growing brain tumor or some other disease causing a gradual decline. The severity of aphasia depends on the cause.

Recently it was announced that Bruce Willis is stepping away from his acting career due to aphasia. His family stated “As a result of this and with much consideration, Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him,” his family said, without revealing what might have caused Willis’ condition. Apparently Bruce Willis did many of his own stunts, so the news media speculates that this is the cause. It is sad to me as I am a Bruce Willis fan.

Causes of Aphasia

Damage to the area of the brain responsible for language causes aphasia, which is usually on the left side. The primary causes of aphasia include:

  • Stroke - loss of blood to any area of the brain causes brain cells to die
  • Head injury
  • Brain Tumor
  • Dementia
  • Infection

At this time it is unknown if aphasia causes a complete loss of the language structure or if it causes problems with the way language is accessed and used.

Regions of the left hemisphere that can give rise to aphasia when damaged

Regions of the left hemisphere that can give rise to aphasia when damaged

Types of AphasiaTypes of Aphasia

There are several types of aphasia, and each individual with aphasia has a different experience.

Expressive aphasia (Broca’s or nonfluent aphasia) occurs due to damage to the front portion of the language-dominant side of the brain. People with this type of aphasia may have difficulty with speech, but they may understand what others say. People struggle to get their words out, speak in short sentences and also omit words. They are usually aware of their difficulty with communication, but they may get frustrated. It is also possible for them to have right-sided weakness or paralysis.

Comprehensive aphasia (Wernicke aphasia) occurs with damage to the side portion of the language-dominant area of the brain. These people may speak fluently in long, complex sentences that make no sense. Their sentences may include unrecognizable, unnecessary or incorrect words. They typically do not understand spoken language very well, but they don’t realize others do not understand them.

Global aphasia results from damage to a large area of the language-dominant side of the brain. This person will have poor comprehension along with a difficult time forming words and sentences. Global aphasia causes severe difficulty with comprehension and expression.

In many cases of aphasia other cognitive problems may occur, such as confusion or memory problems.

There are episodes of temporary episodes of aphasia that can be due to migraine headaches or transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA occurs when blood flow is temporarily blocked to an area of the brain. These people are at an increased risk of a major stroke.

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Symptoms of Aphasia

There are several possible symptoms of aphasia, including:

  • Speaking in short or incomplete sentences
  • Substitute words or a sound incorrectly
  • Using sentences that do not make sense
  • Use unrecognizable words
  • Unable to understand other people’s conversation
  • Writing sentences that do not make sense
  • Difficulty reading or spelling
  • Unable to name objects, events, places or people they know
  • Leaving out small words, like the, of or was from speech
  • Speaking in single words
  • Using made up words
  • Using the same few words or short phrases over and over
  • Trouble using numbers or doing math

What Is Aphasia And How To Treat It


Imagining tests may be ordered, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) to diagnose brain damage. A basic language skills exam may be ordered, which requires the patient to carry on a conversation, answer questions, name objects and follow instructions.

If aphasia is suspected the patient is often referred to a speech-language pathologist for a comprehensive examination. This healthcare specialist is specifically trained in identifying and improving language and communication abilities.




After the cause is addressed the treatment for aphasia is usually speech and language therapy. The person suffering from aphasia can relearn and practice their language skills. The patient with aphasia can relearn and practice language skills. They may learn other ways to communicate, plus family members will participate in this process as they desire to help the patient to communicate.

The speech-language technician will typically conduct tests to assess the patient’s abilities to learn grammar and to form words and sounds. The tests may include picture descriptions, using single words to name pictures and objects. The patients are asked to match spoken words to the pictures or answer yes/no questions. Their ability to follow directions, and they give other tests when appropriate.

What is Intensive Aphasia Therapy?

Final Thoughts

Language difficulty issues that develop gradually are called primary aphasia. There is usually a gradual degeneration of brain cells in the language network area. This may sometimes develop into a more generalized dementia.

Once the cause of the aphasia has been addressed, speech and language therapy begins. Learning new ways to communicate is part of the therapy, and it is common for family members to participate in this process, helping the person to communicate.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Pamela Oglesby

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