What is dysphasia?
Dysphasia is a language disorder that affects the ability to produce and understand spoken language. It can cause reading, writing, speech and gesturing problems.
There are 3 main types:
- Expressive dysphasia: this affects a person’s ability to speak and articulate language coherently. It is caused by damage to the area of the brain responsible for speech production called Broca’s area.
- Receptive dysphasia: affects language comprehension. The person can speak fluently, but they often speak with no meaning and are unaware of their speech errors. It is caused by damage to the area in the brain responsible for understanding written and spoken language.
- Combined/global dysphasia: the person has difficulty expressing themselves, speaking and understanding language. This type of dysphasia is caused by widespread damage to the language centres of the brain.
What are the main symptoms?
The most common symptoms of dysphasia include difficulties speaking, difficulties with expression and understanding spoken language. It is also common for people with dysphasia to display withdrawal from social situations because their dysphasia causes communication problems.
Verbal signs of dysphasia include:
- Speaking slowly and with great difficulty
- The use of bad grammar when forming a sentence and the omission of grammar
- Struggling to remember words and using a limited vocabulary
- Speaking fluently but in a nonsensical manner
Signs of dysphasia in relation to comprehension:
- Difficulty understanding spoken language
- Difficulty understanding complex grammar or fast speech
- Difficulty processing and remembering long sentences
- Misinterpretation of sentences
How is dysphasia diagnosed?
If dysphasia occurs suddenly, without any associated head injury, your doctor can carry out a number of tests to discover the underlying cause. Tests can include a physical exam, examining reflexes and an MRI scan.
What are the main causes of dysphasia?
Dysphasia occurs when areas of the brain responsible for language production and comprehension are damaged. A number of conditions can cause brain damage. Strokes are the most common cause of dysphasia. During a stroke, a blockage in the blood vessels of the brain can starve brain cells of blood and oxygen, causing them to die. This leads to brain damage.
More conditions that cause dysphasia include:
- Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Brain tumours
- Traumatic head injuries
Some cases of dysphasia, caused by epilepsy or migraines are only temporary and normal language abilities are restored after the epileptic seizures and headaches subside.
Can dysphasia be prevented?
Measures can be taken to reduce the risk of dysphasia. As strokes are the leading cause of dysphasia, people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes can take measures to lower cholesterol, manage stress and control blood sugar levels to reduce their chances of a stroke and/or dysphasia.
How is dysphasia treated?
Speech and language therapy is used in milder cases of dysphasia to restore speech and language skills. Exercises used to improve speech and language include:
- Exercises to distinguish sounds
- Pronunciation exercises
- Auditory memory exercises that involve listening exercises, processing information and recall
- Vocabulary exercises to increase vocabulary
- Semantic exercises to improve understanding of context and meaning
- Morpho-syntactic exercises for example; knowing when to use the correct pronouns and prepositions when forming a sentence