Aphasia is a language disorder that affects communication. It results from brain damage, often after a stroke. Treatment aims to restore a person’s language and communication abilities as much as possible.
Aphasia often results from damage to the part of the brain responsible for speech and language. It can affect both the production and understanding of spoken and written language.
For people who have aphasia with dementia, aphasia will progressively worsen. However, treatment can help the person continue to communicate for as long as possible.
Factors that can affect progress include:
- the cause and extent of the damage
- the person’s age
- other overall health factors
This article explains some of the treatment options available for people with aphasia.
Speech and language therapy can help a person with aphasia improve their ability to communicate after a stroke or other event. For those having difficulty regaining their language skills, digital technologies can also help them communicate.
Speech and language therapy is the main treatment for aphasia. While people often do not regain full use of their speech and language skills, these treatments can help improve their symptoms.
Speech therapy aims to help people:
- expand on their current language ability
- relearn language skills
- learn new ways of communicating when speech is not an option
The severity of a person’s symptoms will affect the individual goals of their treatment, therapy techniques, and outlook.
Before starting treatment, a person will have an assessment to evaluate how aphasia affects their communication.
Some things that a doctor or speech-language pathologist (SLP) will evaluate include:
- current speech impairment level
- presence of limb or oral apraxia
- ability to read and write
- medical history, including mental health disorders
- impacts on quality of life
For people who use more than one language, their SLP will consider their age when they learned this second language and which language is most essential in the person’s daily life. This will help prioritize their goals.
The assessment will help participants focus on the particular areas that need more attention during therapy.
The aims of treatment and specific techniques will depend on the individual’s needs. The main goals of speech-language therapy include:
- improving the use of current speech skills
- learning new ways to communicate to make up for missing speech ability
- improving language skills through relearning
- learning to use gestures to make communication more effective and understandable
The therapist will ask a person to carry out certain tasks, such as sorting words by their meaning. These activities may help strengthen a person’s ability to link meaning to words.
Types of speech-language therapy include:
- Group therapy: Groups of people with aphasia meet and try to improve their skills together in a comfortable environment.
- Melodic intonation therapy (MIT): Specifically for treating nonfluent aphasia, MIT uses rhythm and humming to help people recall how to say and remember more words.
- Computerized script training (CST): A computerized script of daily conversations can help people with aphasia practice their speaking skills.
Medications that slow the destruction of neurons in the brain have shown potential for treating aphasia. Researchers believe they may help heal the parts of the brain responsible for symptoms of aphasia.
Options include medications such as donepezil (Aricept) and memantine (Namenda).
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a type of noninvasive brain stimulation therapy.
It works by exciting the neurons in a person’s brain, which can induce long lasting change. However, more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of this approach.
Assistive and everyday technology can help people with aphasia. Learning to use assistive technology can make a difference as people work to regain their speech and language skills.
For instance, a person might use previously saved images on a smartphone to communicate ideas.
Video links provide the opportunity to use gestures. Online communication also presents the option to join communities of people with similar interests and challenges.
Other tools and features that may be helpful include:
- text-to-speech features
- text prediction
- drawing apps
- apps that enable a person to tap on an image to hear a word
If a person can still write or type, they can use voice output communication aids to compose a message on a keyboard and have that message spoken by a computer-generated voice.
All aphasia treatments aim to help a person become as independent as possible and maximize their ability to communicate.
If a person has a permanent type of aphasia, for example, due to a stroke or traumatic brain injury, the following factors can determine the outlook of treatment:
- location of brain damage
- severity of brain damage
- overall health prior to aphasia
Various factors will influence how well a person with aphasia will be able to regain their ability to speak.
A speech and language therapist will perform an assessment to decide which treatment path is best and establish some clear goals.
Therapy helps many people regain at least some of their communication skills, and digital options can provide additional support.
As new technologies emerge, the chance for people with aphasia to communicate effectively is likely to improve.