Language and communication disorders are common among seniors that have suffered a stroke, a brain injury or trauma, or are battling a progressive neurodegenerative disorder like Alzheimer’s or dementia. Aphasia and dysarthria are both forms of communication disorders that lead to the individual’s inability to comprehend or express language properly.

Aphasia Defined

Aphasia is a type of language impairment that can affect the comprehension or formation of language, both written and verbal. This can obviously have farther reaching effects as the ability to communicate is essential to many aspects of daily life. Depending on severity of the symptoms it can have an impact on independent living and be debilitating.

Aphasia is the result of some type of injury or damage to the brain. Most often this damage is cause by stroke, either from a blocked blood vessel or artery in the brain, or one that has ruptured and is leaking blood into the brain tissue. The earlier a stoke is recognized and effectively treated, the less severe the effects tend to be. Severity of aphasia can range from almost not being able to communicate at all, to effects impacting just one specific component of language, like mixing up or misplacing words, or losing the ability to read.

Symptoms

Because symptoms are dependent on the severity of the brain damage, the region of the brain affected, and the underlying causes, they can vary greatly from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms of aphasia, may include:

  • Using words or sentences that don’t make sense
  • Speaking in short phrases or incomplete sentences
  • Difficulty following a conversation
  • Get words mixed up
  • Trouble understanding written text
  • Writing incorrectly formed sentences

While aphasia is associated with the inability to comprehend and produce language, it does not cause any cognitive impairment itself and does not affect the individual’s intelligence in any way.

Causes

While the majority of aphasia cases are the result of a stroke, brain damage can come as the result of other issues like a head injury, brain tumor or infection, or a neurological disorder like dementia.

When aphasia is an effect of Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is also generally accompanied with other cognitive issues like memory and learning impairment. Primary progressive aphasia is common with dementia, due to the gradually progressive nature of the disease. This type of aphasia is slow to progress, as language problems develop slowly and incrementally.

Temporary episodes of aphasia may also take place in the case of serious migraines or seizures.

Dysarthria Defined

Dysarthria is a communication disorder characterized by difficulty with the articulation and expression of language. It has nothing to with language comprehension, or not remembering words. Dysarthria has more to do with physical effects of brain damage or trauma, like loss of strength or control of the muscles used to produce speech. There are an array of muscles that are required to formulate speech, like the tongue, lips, throat, and face, which all may be affected by brain damage from stroke, disease, or injury.

Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms associated with dysarthria, include:

  • Slurred or incomprehensible speech
  • Speaking too quickly or slowly
  • Awkward movements of tongue, lips, or jaw
  • Choppy or robotic speech delivery
  • Changes in voice which become hoarse or nasally

Causes

Much like aphasia, dysarthria is caused by damage to the brain from illness or injury. Prevalent causes include:

  • Stroke
  • Brain tumor
  • Head injury
  • MS
  • Parknison’s
  • Huntington’s
  • ALS
  • Alzheimer’s or dementia

Severity of the injury or illness and how soon it was treated will have a direct impact on speech impairment.

Tips and Suggestions for Family Members and Caregivers

Treating and managing communication disorders can be challenging. It can involve frustration on both sides, so it is best just to take it slow. Practicing empathy is highly recommended, trying to understand how frustrating it must be for people that have the same level of intelligence, but have lost the ability to grasp language concepts or effectively express them in speech.

Some helpful practices for language recovery, may be:

  • Interact in a quiet place with no distractions
  • Keep language short and simple
  • Paraphrase and rephrase
    • Find different ways to form sentences or ask questions until understating is reached
  • Use a variety of communication methods like speech, drawing, writing, actions, pictures
  • Repeat and confirm to ensure comprehension
  • Be a good listener
  • Patience and perseverance – don’t try to rush it, recovery is a slow process
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