Each June, we recognize Aphasia Awareness Month, a time dedicated to encouraging advocacy for a common health condition that 84.5% of Americans don’t even know exists. As a chronic impairment that affects language, aphasia can dramatically affect those who live with it every day. During Aphasia Awareness Month, clinical professionals, along with individuals with aphasia and those who support them can share information about this little-known disorder. If you want to participate in these efforts, you can learn more about aphasia, how it impacts those who have it and what can be done to provide a better quality of life for those living with aphasia.
What Is Aphasia?
Individuals with aphasia have damage to the areas of the brain responsible for producing and processing language. Although aphasia leaves core intelligence intact, the condition disrupts communication, such as speaking, listening, reading and writing. When people have difficulties communicating, they may find it hard to form and maintain relationships as well as experience challenges at school, work or in other social situations.
History Of Aphasia Awareness Month
Aphasia Awareness Month began as a national effort to increase public awareness about the condition, including what it is, how to recognize people living with it and ways to support caring for someone with the disorder. Since aphasia is common but not widely known, the annual event aims to educate more people about the condition itself as well as inform the public about treatment options.
What Causes Aphasia?
Aphasia results from damage to one or more of the brain’s language centers, which can occur after an injury, accident or disease. In many cases of aphasia, the condition starts after damage occurs to the brain due to a stroke. Known medically as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), a stroke happens when the brain’s blood supply to a specific area is interrupted. Often arising due to a blood clot lodged in a vein/artery or from either a leaking or burst blood vessel, strokes prevent blood from reaching the brain cells, thus starving them of oxygen and important nutrients.
Other causes of aphasia may include severe head trauma, brain tumors, infection in the brain, gunshot wounds and progressive neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. While aphasia often occurs suddenly, the condition can develop slowly over time.
Acquired aphasia in children is rare but does occur, with brain trauma as the most common cause. In pediatric patients, the clinical symptoms and degree of impairment vary depending on age and the severity of the trauma. Most often, speech and language disturbances tend to develop after the child has achieved the ability to comprehend language and the capacity for verbal expression.
The Impact Of Aphasia
Today, aphasia affects about two million Americans, which makes it more prevalent than cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease or muscular dystrophy. According to the National Aphasia Association, almost 180,000 Americans are diagnosed with aphasia each year. Due to the disruption in language processing, aphasia can have a wide range of effects on people’s lives, including:
- Negative influence on employability
- Depression, social isolation and boredom
- A decline in participation in life’s activities
- Reduction and decreased satisfaction in quality of life
- Sense of lacking control and frustration with limitations
- Interruption or loss of social and vocational relationships
Aphasia Awareness: Why It Matters
Given the prevalence of aphasia in the population, we are all likely to encounter someone with aphasia at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, aphasia is not always obvious and may manifest in a variety of ways with differing degrees of severity. When we become enlightened about these variations and the myriad difficulties people with aphasia face, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge to support those coping with the condition.
In addition, Aphasia Awareness Month helps healthcare professionals grow their understanding of the condition. As knowledge of aphasia grows, more professionals will recognize that individuals with aphasia can have different symptoms and treatment needs. As a result, quality of engagement can improve and people with aphasia can experience personalized plans of care that help them achieve the best possible outcomes.
There Is Hope For Aphasia
According to the Cerebrovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic, most neurologists feel a team approach to aphasia is the best course of action, with a speech therapist to primarily manage the treatment plan. Since each patient has unique needs, their treatment team can include any or all of these professionals:
- Social workers
- Nurse practitioners
- Mental health counselors
- Speech-language pathologists
- Physicians, including neurologists
- Occupational and physical therapists
Intensive speech therapy is a major pillar in the treatment plan for aphasia, with sessions being individual, group-based or both. With the rise in adoption of telehealth, speech therapists may offer virtual appointments via online apps or tools. Through telehealth, people with limited transportation or mobility, along with those living in rural areas, can have access to the therapy they need to manage their aphasia.
While those providing direct care to the person with aphasia are the backbone of any treatment plan, they are not the only ones who support individuals with aphasia. Family, friends or significant others also play a vital role in helping their friends and loved ones make the most of their aphasia recovery.
Resources For Help With Aphasia
Ready to learn more about aphasia? You can refer to your local physician or public health facility to find professionals in your area who treat aphasia or check out the following resources:
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation
- National Aphasia Association
- Aphasia Recovery Connection
- Voices of Hope for Aphasia
When you raise your voice during Aphasia Awareness Month, you are doing your part to spread information about a chronic condition that affects millions of people around the globe. Not sure what to say or do? You can share statistics, short messages, and images created by the National Aphasia Association or attend local events that may be hosted in your area.