Aphasia is a brain injury that affects language

Your Health Matters

Aphasia is an impairment that affects a person’s ability to produce or understand language and the ability to read or write. Each year, it affects more than 3 million people in the U.S.

June is Aphasia Awareness Month. For Marissa Yoes of Meritus Total Rehab Care, it’s important that everyone is reminded of the words from a sign she has in her treatment space: “Aphasia is a loss of language NOT intellect.”

Common beginnings, but different results 

“Aphasia is always due to an injury to the brain,” Yoes said. Most commonly, the injury is the result of a stroke. “It can also occur from head trauma, a brain tumor, an infection or even some type of dementia,” she said.

Aphasia can be mild. “For instance, it may affect your ability to retrieve the names of things you don’t often say when you speak,” Yoes said. An example would be when a patient can recall the word mountain, but not the word volcano. At other times, aphasia can involve multiple aspects of communication impairment.

“A person may be able to understand simple directions, but not complicated ones or can read simple words but not spell them,” she said. A person diagnosed with aphasia might be unable to put words together into sentences or produce common words. An example would be asking a patient about his service in the Coast Guard and having this response: “No. Er, yes. Ship. Mass ... chusetts ... coast guard ... years.”

Reconnecting what’s disorganized 

Yoes explains that with aphasia, words are in the wrong place in a patient’s brain. “Your brain will go to get the information where it thinks it should be, but it isn’t there,” she said. “All of what you need is there, but it is now disorganized.”

In the recovery process for patients diagnosed with aphasia, a speech-language pathologist like Yoes works with patients and their families to help re-establish connections between words.

“We are refiling the words to again make those connections between them, their meanings, associated words, opposite words and logical grammatical structure,” Yoes said. “In doing this, we are able to achieve communication that is as effective as possible in as many real-world situations as we can.”

Continuing communication 

Yoes suggests that if you encounter someone with aphasia, you can support your shared communication with specific techniques:

• Speak at a slightly slower rate than you normally would

• Take frequent pauses while speaking

• Offer a longer amount of wait time for responses

• Let the person know that you understand the messages and ask him/her to do the same.

More personalized recommendations to support communication can be made by the speech language specialist based on the specific needs of the person diagnosed with aphasia.

Meritus Total Rehab Care offers outpatient rehabilitation at two locations in Hagerstown. Marissa Yoes is a licensed speech language pathologist in the state of Maryland, with a certificate of clinical competence from the American Speech Language Association. She is a certified Lingraphica technology specialist trained to optimize outcomes for people with aphasia. To learn more, call 301-714-4025.