How Aphasia Affects Your Communication

At some point, we've all stumbled over our words or struggled to find the words we want to say. For people diagnosed with aphasia, however, grappling to say the right words and striving to understand what others say can be a constant challenge. According to WebMD, aphasia is a communication disorder that makes it difficult for a person to speak, write, and understand the speech of others.

Karen Gendal, a speech-language pathologist at NYU Langone Rusk Rehabilitation, spoke to Vice and revealed that the most common sentiment heard by people with aphasia is, "I know what I'm trying to say, but I can't get it out." Additionally, a person with aphasia may reveal that they are able to hear when others speak, but they don't comprehend what is being said. Similar comprehension struggles may occur when trying to read written words. For someone with aphasia, communication can be laborious and frustrating.

Aphasia is brought on by damage to parts of the brain that control language functions (via the National Aphasia Association). While aphasia is most often caused by strokes, it can also be a result of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), infections, and tumors within the brain. Healthline explains that there are many types of aphasia that typically fall within 2 primary categories: fluent and non-fluent.

Communicating with fluent aphasia

If a person with aphasia expresses long sentences that don't make sense or says sentences with seemingly random words, it is likely that they have a form of fluent aphasia. People with fluent aphasia are able to say words, usually in the form of extended sentences, but the vocabulary they use may not be what they intend to use because they have trouble comprehending the meanings of words (via MedlinePlus). Even though they are able to verbalize, they struggle to comprehend what is being said, and they may not realize that what they say doesn't make sense. 

There are several types of fluent aphasia, including Wernicke's aphasia, transcortical sensory aphasia, conduction aphasia, and anomic aphasia (via the National Aphasia Association). Both Wernicke's aphasia and transcortical sensory aphasia are hallmarked by long sentences that don't make sense and may include words that are made up. The difference between the 2 types is that someone with transcortical sensory aphasia can repeat words, whereas someone with Wernicke's aphasia usually struggles with repetition. Conduction aphasia is present when someone can still understand others and speak clearly, but they are unable to repeat words and may fumble to find the correct words to use. Anomic aphasia is a mild form of aphasia present when a person can speak and understand clearly, but may use expressions of frustration because they can't think of the words they want to use, per Healthline.

Communicating with non-fluent aphasia

In contrast to the long sentences of fluent aphasia, a person with non-fluent aphasia is more likely to speak in very short sentences (per Healthline). The short sentences encompassing non-fluent aphasia often include pauses between words and may be difficult for the person to complete. Types of non-fluent aphasia include Broca's aphasia, transcortical motor aphasia, and global aphasia.

Communicating with Broca's aphasia requires strenuous effort to say very short statements, such as "Walk dog" or "Book book two table" to reference two books on a table, reports the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Transcortical motor aphasia is characterized by the use of short sentences with delays in response time and a tendency to repeat what has been said or heard (via Healthline). Global aphasia involves extensive brain damage leading to severe symptoms of aphasia, often including a complete inability to produce and comprehend language. However, a person with global aphasia will still have cognitive abilities controlled by parts of the brain that aren't damaged.

When speaking with someone who has aphasia, it's important to be patient and sensitive to the effort it takes to communicate. Speech-language pathologists (SLP) can work with both the person with aphasia and close relatives and friends to improve language production and comprehension. Together, they can learn how to traverse the communication obstacles that aphasia can present (via American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). Mental health counseling can also be beneficial for navigating aphasia-related communication.