How a Speech Therapist Works with Aphasia Patients

Aphasia is a language disorder that can make communication difficult.

Someone with aphasia may have trouble speaking, reading, or writing. This occurs when the language centers of the brain have become damaged.

Stroke, brain injury, and some brain diseases can cause aphasia.

Skilled speech-language pathologists help those with aphasia learn skills for improving their communication. They also help them reach their goals. These can include expressing themselves and understanding others.

“Therapy is very individualized,” says Kirra Mediate, SLP, a speech-language pathologist at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute. “Treatment depends on the person’s personal goals, whether it’s returning to work or just communicating with family.”

Here’s what to know about aphasia and how speech therapists improve communication.

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What’s Aphasia?

Aphasia is a language disorder. It impairs speaking, reading, writing, and/or understanding written or spoken language.

There are many types of aphasia, including fluent and non-fluent aphasia.

Some people struggle to access their words. Others may speak in sentences that are confusing or hard to decipher.

Aphasia is most often the result of a stroke or another traumatic brain injury.

Other potential causes include brain infections, tumors, and some progressive neurological diseases. These can include primary progressive aphasia.

Aphasia can affect people of all ages and in a variety of ways. Recovery will look different for everyone.

Signs of Aphasia

The symptoms of aphasia depend on what type of aphasia a person has. Some signs may include:

  • Challenges reading and writing.
  • Difficulty finding certain words.
  • Difficulty understanding conversations.
  • Speaking in short sentences.
  • Speaking in unrecognizable words.
  • Saying one word or sound when they mean another (like substituting “bench” for “couch”, or “sand” for “hand”).

How Speech Therapists Diagnose and Treat Aphasia

Speech therapy can improve fluency, articulation, cognitive communication, and more.

UPMC Rehabilitation Institute speech-language pathologists first test your language and comprehension skills. This helps them learn your areas of difficulty and pinpoint the focus of your therapy.

They’ll then ask you about your goals.

“When an individual comes in to see us, the first step is an evaluation consisting of a battery of tests that look at a person’s language and cognitive abilities to figure out what difficulties they’re having because of their aphasia,” Kirra says.

“We really take the time to evaluate what is going on, how aphasia is impacting their life, and what we need to do to improve their quality of life.”

Speech therapy for aphasia involves a variety of exercises and activities. It also gives you tools for meeting your goals.

Some activities help you improve language skills.

Others help you figure out ways to handle your communication issues. These can include talking around words you can’t find. They can also include gestures, writing, drawing, and a communication board or device.

“Therapy might include simple things like flash cards, worksheet activities, or doing tasks on a tablet,” Kirra says. “Tasks could include repeating words, relearning language, matching objects to written words, reading or trying to complete sentences, or carrying on a simple conversation.”

“We develop what I call a bag of tricks for the person,” she adds. “These are tools that help the individual communicate more effectively. ”

These tools may include gestures, word descriptions, or cues from family members. These can make understanding or expressing language easier.

“Therapy sessions and increasing the difficulty of the tasks we do improves their language abilities and helps them reach their goals,” Kirra says.

Depending on your needs, speech therapy for aphasia may aim to:

  • Give you and your loved ones information about aphasia.
  • Help you find new and different ways of communicating.
  • Improve your quality of life.
  • Restore your ability to communicate with others and understand them as well as you can.

UPMC Rehabilitation Institute makes thorough, personal treatment plans for those struggling with aphasia.

UPMC’s programs treat a long list of issues and conditions. Aphasia is one of them.

For more information about speech therapy, call 1-888-723-4277.

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.