July 2016

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Understanding Aphasia

Aphasia is a complicated disorder that disrupts a person’s ability to communicate. It’s caused by damage to one or more of the language areas in the brain. People with aphasia may have trouble understanding and using language. Often, reading and writing abilities are also impaired. The condition affects about 1 million people in the U.S.

Aphasia often occurs following a stroke or head injury. It may also develop slowly, as the result of a brain tumor or neurological disease. The type and seriousness of language problems depend on the location of brain damage.

Two of the most common types of aphasia are Wernicke’s and Broca’s aphasia. People with Wernicke’s aphasia may speak in long strings of real or nonsense words. They typically have trouble understanding language. Those with Broca’s aphasia may understand speech and know what they want to say, but they often speak in short phrases that are spoken with great effort; they may omit small words, such as “is” or “the.”

Language therapy should begin as soon as possible and be tailored to the needs of each person.

NIH supports a wide range of studies to better understand and treat aphasia. Learn more about aphasia at these NIH web pages: www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/aphasia/aphasia.htm and www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/aphasia.