A couple of years ago, less than 15% of people in a recent survey knew what the word “aphasia” meant. In the space of a couple of weeks, aphasia has become a household word due to the diagnosis of well-known actor Bruce Willis.
The term “aphasia” means an acquired and selective loss of language abilities due to brain injury. The most common cause is stroke, but other causes include traumatic brain injury, tumor, and neurodegenerative diseases like we focus on in the CSAND lab.
Aphasia impacts about one in every 250 people in the USA. The University of Colorado Health System, with which our lab is affiliated, has seen over 10,000 people with aphasia in the last year alone.
There are many types of aphasia. It can be easy to think of three broad types: expressive, receptive, and global. Most neurologists are familiar with eight subtypes, and specialists even more.
When someone has aphasia, medical providers can help by giving people with aphasia and their loved ones strategies for communication, guiding conversations with other family and friends, giving coping strategies, and directing others towards appropriate therapies. In addition, the cause of the aphasia must be treated if possible.
As challenging as aphasia can be, it is important to also remember the things that someone can do even if language has become more difficult for them. Life does not stop with aphasia– there are a lot of ways to continue to enjoy and engage.