Aphasia is condition characterized by either partial or total loss of the ability to communicate verbally or using written words. A person with aphasia may have difficulty speaking, reading, writing, recognizing the names of objects, or understanding what other people have said. Aphasia is caused by a brain injury, as may occur during a traumatic accident or when the brain is deprived of oxygen during a stroke. It may also be caused by a brain tumor, a disease such as Alzheimer's, or an infection, like encephalitis. Aphasia may be temporary or permanent. Aphasia does not include speech impediments caused by loss of muscle control.
To understand and use language effectively, an individual draws upon word memory—stored information on what certain words mean, how to put them together, and how and when to use them properly. For a majority of people, these and other language functions are located in the left side (hemisphere) of the brain. Damage to this side of the brain is most commonly linked to the development of aphasia. Interestingly, however, left-handed people appear to have language areas in both the left and right hemispheres of the brain and, as a result, may develop aphasia from damage to either side of the brain.
Stroke is the most common cause of aphasia in the United States. Approximately 500,000 individuals suffer strokes each year, and 20% of these individuals develop some type of aphasia. Other causes of brain damage include head injuries, brain tumors, and infection. About half of the people who show signs of aphasia have what is called temporary or transient aphasia and recover completely within a few days. An estimated one million Americans suffer from some form of permanent aphasia. As yet, no connection between aphasia and age, gender, or race has been found.
Aphasia is sometimes confused with other conditions that affect speech, such as dysarthria and apraxia. These condition affect the muscles used in speaking rather than language function itself. Dysarthria is a speech disturbance caused by lack of control over the muscles used in speaking, perhaps due to nerve damage. Speech apraxia is a speech disturbance in which language comprehension and muscle control are retained, but the memory of how to use the muscles to form words is not.
Julia Barrett, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,