Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage in a specific area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension. Aphasia leaves a person unable to communicate effectively with others.
Featured Treatment Areas
This unit provides diagnosis and treatment for frontotemporal dementia and related disorders, including Primary Progressive Aphasia, Semantic Dementia, Corticobasal Degeneration Syndrome, and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.
What is aphasia?
Aphasia is a language disorder. It's caused by damage in the area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension. Aphasia leaves a person unable to communicate effectively with others.
Many people have aphasia after a stroke. Both men and women are affected equally. Most people with aphasia are in middle to old age.
There are many types of aphasia. These are usually diagnosed based on which area of the language-dominant side of the brain is affected and the extent of the damage. For example:
People with Broca aphasia have damage to the front part of the language-dominant side of the brain.
Those with Wernicke aphasia have damage to the side of the language-dominant part of the brain.
Global aphasia is the result of damage to a large part of the language-dominant side of the brain.
What causes aphasia?
Aphasia is caused by damage to the language-dominant side of the brain, usually the left side. It may be brought on by:
It's currently not known if aphasia causes the complete loss of language structure, or if it causes problems in how language is accessed and used.
What are the symptoms of aphasia?
The symptoms of aphasia depend on which type a person has.
Broca aphasia is sometimes called an expressive aphasia. People with this type of aphasia may eliminate the words "and" and "the" from their language, for example. They may speak in short, but meaningful, sentences. They usually can understand some speech of others. People with Broca's aphasia often have right-sided weakness or paralysis of the arm and leg.
Wernicke aphasia is sometimes called a receptive aphasia. People with this type of aphasia may speak in long confusing sentences, add unnecessary words, or create new words. They usually have trouble understanding the speech of others.
People with global aphasia have trouble with speaking or comprehending language.
How is aphasia diagnosed?
Aphasia can be diagnosed using language tests done by a speech-language pathologist. These tests include studying speech, naming, repetition, comprehension, reading, and writing. Making a diagnosis may also include the use of imaging procedures to look at the brain, such as:
CT scan. This imaging test uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
MRI. This test uses large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures in the body.
Positron emission tomography (PET). This computer-based imaging technique uses radioactive substances to examine body processes.
How is aphasia treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
The goal of treatment is to improve the ability to communicate through methods that may include:
Nonverbal communication therapies, such as computers or pictures
Group therapy for patients and their families
Living with aphasia
Some people with aphasia fully recover without treatment. But for most people, some amount of aphasia typically remains. Speech therapy can often help recover some speech and language functions over time. But many people continue to have problems communicating. This can sometimes be difficult and frustrating both for the person with aphasia and for family members. It's important for family members to learn the best ways to communicate with their loved one. Speech therapists can often help with this. Suggestions might include:
Include the person with aphasia in conversations
Simplify language by using short, simple sentences
Repeat key words or write them down to clarify meaning as needed
Use a natural conversational manner at an adult level
Encourage all types of communication, including speech, gestures, pointing, or drawing
Don’t correct the person's speech
Give the person plenty of time to express themselves
Help the person become involved outside the home, such as through support groups
For some people, computers can be helpful for both communicating and improving language abilities.
Key points about aphasia
Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage to parts of the brain that control speech and understanding of language.
Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, a person might have different levels of ability to speak and understand others.
Aphasia might get better over time, but many people are left with some loss of language skills. Speech therapy can often be helpful, as can other tools, such as computers that can help people communicate.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
News & Publications
Our publication keeps health care professionals up to date on the latest research and clinical advances from Mass General.
News and notes from the largest hospital-based research program in the United States
The Patient Gateway provides secure online access to your health information whenever you need it. Check upcoming appointments, communicate with your doctor’s office, review medications and pay medical bills—all seamlessly online 24/7.