Living Well: After stroke or brain injury, speech and language issues are common
After a stroke or traumatic injury to the brain, some patients will experience decreased language and speech abilities — a common yet often misunderstood condition known as aphasia.
The National Aphasia Association reports that at least 2 million people in the United States suffer from aphasia.
Aphasia signs and symptoms
- Slow and halting speech with difficulty constructing a sentence.
- Struggling to get certain words out such as the names of objects, places or people.
- Only using basic nouns and verbs — for example, “want drink” or “go town today.”
- Spelling or grammatical errors.
- Using a wrong but related word such as saying “chair” instead of “table.”
- Including nonsense words or their speech not making sense (speech-sound errors).
- Difficulty understanding what people say.
- Difficulty understanding written words.
- Misinterpreting the meaning of words, gestures, pictures or drawings.
- Giving responses that may not make sense if they’ve misunderstood questions or comments.
- Not being aware of their difficulties with understanding, or their own speech errors.
To receive any speech services in MRH locations, the patient must have a physician’s order. Once the person/patient has an order, they can contact the outpatient rehabilitation center at 970-824-5992 to schedule an appointment.
The Memorial Regional Health Rehabilitation center is located at 473 Yampa Ave.
Joan Parnell, speech language pathologist at Memorial Regional Health, said aphasia affects the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. It most commonly occurs in older people after a stroke.
Misconceptions about aphasia
Patients or their loved ones often worry that aphasia affects intelligence, but Parnell said this is false.
“Aphasia is a language disorder. It can impact cognitive skills like memory and problem solving; however, overall intelligence remains intact,” she said.
Another misconception is that only adults can acquire aphasia, but Parnell said strokes and brain injuries — the only causes of the condition — can happen to babies, young adults and the elderly.
While the recovery of language skills is usually a relatively slow process, most people do make significant progress, Parnell said.
Different types of aphasia
There are eight defined types of aphasia, and even more varieties of the condition that don’t fit in with the eight defined types, according to the National Aphasia Association. Parnell breaks aphasia into two categories: expressive and receptive.
Someone with expressive aphasia has difficulty communicating thoughts, ideas and messages to others. This may affect speech, writing, gestures or drawing, and causes problems with everyday tasks like using the telephone, writing an email or speaking to family and friends, she said.
Receptive aphasia causes a difficulty in understanding spoken or written language. Patients might also have difficulty interpreting gestures, drawings, numbers and pictures, Parnell said.
This can affect everyday activities such as reading an email, managing finances, having conversations, listening to the radio or following TV shows.
MRH offers speech language pathology to children and adults with aphasia as an inpatient in the hospital setting, outpatient and through home health services.
Parnell said speech therapy aims to improve a person’s ability to communicate by helping him or her to use remaining language abilities, restore language abilities as much as possible and learn other ways of communicating — such as gestures, pictures or use of electronic devices.
Individual therapy focuses on a patient’s specific needs, while group therapy provides an opportunity for patients to use new communication skills in a small group setting. The specific therapy techniques used depend on a patient’s circumstances.
For example, for patients having difficulty understanding words, the speech language pathologist may ask them to carry out tasks such as matching words to pictures or sorting words by their meaning, Parnell said. The aim of these tasks is to improve the ability to remember meanings and link them with other words.
Other techniques include naming pictures, identifying words that rhyme, repeating words, constructing sentences and working with a computer.
“Speech therapy includes speech, language, voice, cognitive and swallowing treatments due to a variety of diagnoses,” Parnell said.
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