Published on August 13, 2021

When You Can't Find the Words

Aphasia written on a blackboard

Aphasia is a communication disorder that impacts your ability to understand and use language, but it does not affect intelligence.

Aphasia is most often caused by stroke but can also be caused by a traumatic brain injury, a brain tumor or other neurological causes.

Aphasia can affect:

  • Speaking – people with aphasia often have difficulty with word finding or putting words together. This problem can range from mild to a severe deficit that makes it impossible for someone to say anything.
  • Understanding/comprehension – people with some types of aphasia are unable to comprehend the words they hear. This problem can range from mild difficulty understanding longer sentences to difficulty understanding simple words.
  • Reading – when people with aphasia are unable to read the way they could before, it is called “alexia.” This acquired reading disorder affects a person’s ability to read books, documents and other reading material.
  • Writing – when people with aphasia are unable to write the way they could before, it is called “agraphia.” This acquired writing disorder affects a person’s ability to send texts, write letters or fill out important documents.

Aphasia, unlike many other disabilities, is a “silent” disability. Often the person with aphasia has no residual physical limitations from their stroke or brain injury, so people do not “see” a disability.

While there is no cure for aphasia, speech-language therapy can help address the various deficits a person has in language and comprehension. The speech-language pathologist will help the person with aphasia recover some of their function as well as teach them compensation strategies to effectively communicate with others. These strategies include using a communication device that can speak for you, writing down what you want to say, using scripts for routine communication exchanges (making an appointment, ordering at a restaurant), or having a trained family member who can support your communication attempts.

Improvement is a slow process, but people with aphasia can continue to improve and make progress over a period of years and even decades. Just like people with physical disabilities may use wheelchair ramps, people with aphasia need “communication ramps.” These ramps can take many different forms, including “aphasia friendly” forms and documents at doctor’s offices, banks and other businesses.

These forms have fewer words, more white space, simpler words and larger fonts. Restaurants could offer “aphasia friendly” menus.

Another ramp could be office staff and others in the community giving the person with aphasia plenty of time to speak or allowing a family member to accompany them to help them communicate.

If you have aphasia, you may want to have some form of identification stating you have aphasia, like a medical alert bracelet used by people with diabetes or other health conditions. Many of the national aphasia organizations offer free aphasia cards on their websites.

These cards state that you have aphasia, what your specific communication problems are and how the listener can help you communicate or understand.

If you have been discharged from speech therapy in the past because of lack of progress, it does not mean you cannot get speech therapy again. People with aphasia can always benefit from speech therapy, no matter how long you have had it.

    While there is no cure for aphasia, speech-language therapy can help address language and comprehension deficits.