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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago


One of the most common side effects of stroke is aphasia, a language disorder that hinders the ability to communicate.

Strokes in the left part of the brain, which controls speech and language centers, can cause aphasia.

Signs & Symptoms

While the intelligence of a stroke survivor may not be impacted, aphasia can make their speech impossible to understand. Signs of aphasia may include:

  • Difficulty finding words
  • Problems understanding what other people are saying
  • Difficulty speaking, reading, or writing
  • Inability to process longer words

Aphasia can be very alarming and confusing for a survivor, as it affects the ability to communicate.

Types of Aphasia

There are four main categories of aphasia, including:

  • Expressive aphasia: difficulty in conveying language information
  • Receptive aphasia: difficulty understanding language information
  • Amnesia aphasia: difficulty using the correct names for things
  • Global aphasia: complete loss of ability to convey or understand language information or follow commands

Aphasia may also be categorized as fluent or nonfluent:

Wernicke’s Aphasia (Fluent)

Most often resulting from damage to the left temporal lobe of the brain, it may cause a person to speak in long, meaningless sentences that may involve made-up words.

They may have particular difficulty understanding speech, and may be unaware of their own inability to communicate.

Broca’s Aphasia (Nonfluent)

Most often resulting from damage to the frontal lobe of the brain, people with this form of aphasia may speak in short phrases that make sense but which are produced only with great effort, and may omit small words.

For example, if a person intended to say “I will rest in my bed, now.” It may come out as “Will rest bed.” People with this form of aphasia may understand others fairly well, and may be very frustrated by their own impaired ability to communicate.

Diagnosis & Testing

A doctor (often a neurologist) is most likely to diagnose aphasia, particularly in the wake of a stroke, by performing tests that require the person to:

  • Answer questions
  • Follow commands
  • Name objects
  • Have a conversation

Your doctor may refer you to a speech pathologist, who will do a comprehensive examination of your ability to:

  • Speak
  • Express ideas
  • Converse socially
  • Understand language
  • Read and write

Treatment of Aphasia

Recovery from aphasia can vary, depending on the amount of damage caused to the language areas of the brain.

Rapid recovery can come about in cases of transient ischemic attack (TIA), where the blood flow was blocked only temporarily, and was quickly restored.

In most cases of stroke-related aphasia, recovery of language is neither rapid nor complete. Even in cases where there is recovery over time, some amount of aphasia usually remains.

Speech therapy can help with this. Support groups by stroke survivors can help individuals learn new communication skills.

What Family Members Can Do

Aphasia can be a frustrating and challenging disorder, and it is important for caregivers and family members to help their loved ones by doing the following:

  • Simplifying language by using short and uncomplicated sentences
  • Maintaining a natural, adult-appropriate conservational manner
  • Repeating the content words to clarify meaning
  • Writing down any keywords as needed, for clarity
  • Minimizing distractions such as radio or television
  • Including the person with aphasia in conversations
  • Encouraging any type of communication (speech, gesturing, drawing, etc.)
  • Avoiding correcting the person’s speech
  • Allowing the person enough time to talk
  • Helping them join a support group
Last UpdateMay 1, 2012