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7-minute read

Key facts

  • Aphasia is a brain condition that involves having difficulty with language and speech, but it does not affect intelligence.
  • It may affect a range of language skills, such as talking, understanding, reading and writing.
  • People with aphasia may have trouble with finding words, putting a sentence together and following instructions and conversations.
  • Aphasia is caused by damage to the language areas of your brain, most commonly by a stroke.
  • A speech pathologist can help people with aphasia improve language skills and learn new ways to communicate.

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a brain condition that involves difficulty with language and speech. It occurs when there is damage to the part of your brain that controls how you use and understand language.

There are different ways of experiencing aphasia, depending on which part of your brain is affected.

Types of aphasia include:

  • expressive aphasia (also called Broca’s aphasia) — where you have trouble communicating what you want to say
  • receptive aphasia (also called Wernicke’s aphasia) — where you have trouble understanding what others are saying
  • anomic aphasia — where you can’t remember words or names
  • global aphasia — where you have trouble with both speaking and understanding
  • primary progressive aphasia (PPA) — a type of dementia where language skills get worse as time goes on

What are the symptoms of aphasia?

Aphasia can cause difficulty with:

  • talking
  • understanding language
  • reading
  • writing and spelling

You might have difficulty with one or more of these skills. Some people have trouble with almost all language skills.

If talking is difficult, you might:

  • not be able to remember a word you want to say
  • use the wrong word for something
  • say words incorrectly
  • leave words out of a sentence
  • use incorrect grammar

If you have trouble understanding language, you might:

  • take longer to understand what someone is telling you
  • find it hard to understand long sentences
  • have difficulty following instructions
  • stop paying attention when someone is talking to you
  • not follow what is going on in a movie or on TV

If your child is living with aphasia, they might find it hard to do their schoolwork and to behave in class. They might have trouble communicating with friends.

What causes aphasia?

Aphasia is caused by damage to the areas of your brain that control language skills. The way you experience aphasia depends on which area is affected and how much damage there is.

The most common cause of aphasia is stroke.

Other causes include:

When should I see my doctor?

If you notice that you are having trouble finding words, reading, writing or understanding others around you, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

If you suddenly have difficulty talking, you may be having a stroke and should go to the emergency department immediately. Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is aphasia diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist. The specialist might be able to tell that you have aphasia by talking to you. They will probably test your language skills by asking you to name objects, repeat a sentence, read, write and follow simple instructions.

You might have a scan of your brain, such as a CT or MRI, to find out what might be causing your aphasia.

You will also need to see a speech pathologist or neuropsychologist for a more detailed test of your language and thinking skills. This can diagnose what type of aphasia you have and identify exactly which tasks are difficult for you.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is aphasia treated?

Treatment for aphasia involves working on language skills with a speech pathologist. The therapist will help you learn how to best use the language skills you still have. They can also help you learn new ways to express yourself.

You might find it helpful to use a communication aid, such as a book or iPad with pictures you can point to.

If your child has aphasia, it can help to have support from a special education teacher.

How should I communicate with someone who has aphasia?

If your friend or relative is living with aphasia, there are some practical things you can do to help them communicate. Remember that their intelligence has not been affected — make sure to talk to them in the same tone of voice you would use to speak to anyone else.

You can help them understand what you’re saying by:

  • speaking in short sentences
  • making eye contact
  • using pictures and hand movements
  • repeating important words
  • talking about one topic at a time

You can help them talk to you by:

  • being patient and giving them time to express themselves
  • offering for them to draw what they mean if they can’t think of a word
  • checking with them that you’ve understood them

Aphasia Association of Victoria has helpful tips for communicating with someone who has aphasia.

Can aphasia be prevented?

There are things you can do to prevent stroke, which is the most common cause of aphasia. It’s important to:

Complications of aphasia

Living with aphasia can feel very frustrating. It can affect relationships and quality of life and may lead to depression or anxiety. Helping a person with aphasia to communicate and stay connected socially is vital for their wellbeing.

If aphasia is caused by a stroke or head injury, it may get a bit better with time. However, if you have primary progressive aphasia (PPA) it will continue to get worse.

Resources and support

If you are living with aphasia or caring for someone with aphasia, visit the Australian Aphasia Association's website for more information and support.

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Last reviewed: April 2024

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