One of the most distressing results of a stroke is the inability to communicate properly. Because different aspects of speech and comprehension are in different parts of the brain, the location that is damaged from the stroke will determine the effect on communication and its severity. Some stroke patients show no such problems, but many patients do experience issues with speech and comprehension to some degree. Fortunately, many therapies have been developed to help stroke patients reconnect with loved ones through communication.
Types of Aphasia
Aphasia is the umbrella term for disruption of speech and/or comprehension after injury to the brain. Aphasia may affect the patient’s ability to speak, read, write, and listen effectively. A stroke that does extensive damage to both the front and back of the left hemisphere may result in global aphasia, which causes difficulty in both understanding words and sentences as well as forming words and sentences.
When only parts of the brain are affected, aphasia may present itself in a variety of different ways, such as:
- Brocas’s aphasia, also called non-fluent or expressive aphasia: limited speech, with usually only a few words at a time, but with the ability to understand speech and to read; writing is limited
- Mixed non-fluent aphasia: limited speech that takes much effort, like Broca’s aphasia, but with more limited comprehension and only an elementary-level ability to read or write
- Werncke’s aphasia, also called fluent or receptive aphasia: ability to speak fluently, but with difficulty comprehending, therefore sentences do not always make sense and the patient may not realize it; impaired ability to read and write
- Anomic aphasia: grammar and speech input are not impaired, but the patient has difficulty coming up with the right words, thus using imprecise words or broad descriptions to compensate and get the point across
Other problems may be associated with muscle weakness, which can be present alone or with one of the above forms of aphasia. These include dysarthria and apraxia of speech. Dysarthria can result in speech that is slurred or slow, while apraxia of speech causes inconsistent and unpredictable errors because of a lack of coordination in muscles.
Treatments for aphasia, dysarthria, and apraxia
A variety of treatments have been developed, some specific to the particular type of aphasia, to help stroke patients speak, read, write, and comprehend again. The brain is an amazing organ with the power of neuroplasticity, which is its way of self-healing by restructuring new neural pathways. High repetition and “massed practice” of skills are necessary to activate neuroplasticity and begin the rebuilding of those pathways.
Speech therapy exercises, whether to strengthen the muscles or retrain the brain, must be followed as described on a consistent basis. Family and friends can help patients recover more quickly by helping them practice. If the speech therapist has explained the goals and methods to family members, the family can work the exercises into normal conversation and interaction, so that it feels less like work and more like “getting back to normal.”
Music therapy is proving to be an exceptionally useful tool for helping stroke patients recover the ability to speak. Music and creativity are on opposite hemispheres, thus many people are able to sing, even when they are unable to speak clearly. This ability to sing can be harnessed, transferring over to regular speech, through rhythm and tone, helping the patient to speak normally.
A stroke can be devastating to both the stroke victim and the patient’s loved ones. Sadly, 25% of all strokes are repeat strokes. If you or someone you love is at high risk for a stroke or has already had a stroke, consider adding Neuralert’s stroke detection monitors to your health regimen. Our state-of-the-art technology looks like a smartwatch but can signal medical personnel within minutes of potential asymmetric arm movement, the classic sign of stroke onset. Talk to your doctor about our stroke detection wristbands to provide the quick response you need to decrease future stroke damage risk.