The basics of stroke and stroke-related aphasia

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Physical Therapy and Rehab
Speech therapist teaching woman with vocal exercise

Language is a part of almost everything you do. From talking with your loved ones to watching your favorite TV show to cooking your favorite meal, you use written and spoken language on a daily basis.

If your language becomes impaired — for instance, due to a medical condition like stroke — it can severely impact your day-to-day activities and quality of life.

A stroke is a common but dangerous medical condition. This disease impacts the arteries that travel to and throughout the brain, and it can lead to a condition called aphasia. Aphasia is a language disorder that makes it difficult to produce and understand both spoken and written language.

"Every 40 seconds, a person in the US has a stroke." – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

With May being Stroke Awareness Month, we promise not to pile on the bad news. Instead, we believe things can improve. Despite the gloomy numbers, almost 80% of strokes are completely preventable.

By educating yourself about the causes and dangers of strokes, you can work with your healthcare provider to drastically reduce your risk of stroke and stroke-related aphasia.

Stroke basics: What is a stroke, and what causes one?

Strokes may be common, but they are often misunderstood. Many people believe strokes happen in the heart, but they actually take place in the brain. This is why a stroke is sometimes referred to as a brain attack.

There are two major types of stroke:

  • Ischemic stroke, the most common type, occurs when blood clots or other particles block off the vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke is when an artery in the brain bursts or leaks blood into the brain tissue. The leaked blood puts extra pressure on brain cells, damaging them.

Stroke causes and prevention

Ischemic strokes are often caused by a blood clot or clump of tissue that blocks the blood supply to the brain. Clots can either develop within the blood vessel or somewhere else in your body, like the heart or upper chest.

Hemorrhagic strokes are usually caused by weak spots in the blood vessel walls. These spots can rupture and leak blood into the surrounding tissue.

While it's tough to pinpoint the exact cause of a stroke, there are many factors that put you at a higher risk, such as:

There are also factors outside of your control, such as age, family history, and prior stroke.

Stroke prevention starts with limiting the risk factors in your control. This means not smoking, eating a healthy diet, staying active, and managing health conditions, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

As for those factors you can't control, knowing your risk is key. By working closely with your healthcare provider, you can create a plan to lower your chances of stroke, including side effects like aphasia.

How is stroke related to issues like aphasia?

You may do everything in your power to prevent a stroke, but strokes do happen. If you or someone you love suffers from a stroke, side effects can occur, including stroke-related aphasia.

Aphasia — a language impairment disorder that may affect a person's ability to communicate — occurs because of a brain injury, such as head trauma, brain tumors, and stroke.

"Roughly one-third of strokes lead to aphasia."–National Aphasia Association

Aphasia can range from mild to severe. For instance, a person with aphasia may only have problems finding names for certain objects. Or, they may lose their ability to put together sentences completely. Most of the time, aphasia impacts multiple channels of language, making it difficult to communicate in general.

The different types of aphasia are:

  • Expressive aphasia: When someone knows what they want to say, but they have trouble communicating it — either through speaking or in writing
  • Receptive aphasia: When someone struggles to understand written or spoken language
  • Anomic aphasia: When someone has difficulty finding words to write or speak
  • Global aphasia: When someone can't read, write, speak, or understand words — typically after having a stroke
  • Primary progressive aphasia: When someone slowly loses their ability to read, write, speak, and understand. This is a rare but serious condition.

Speech therapy rehabilitation for stroke-related aphasia

A stroke takes a serious toll on your brain. Immediately after a stroke, your body will work hard to recover and repair the damage that has occurred. As a result, some people with stroke-related aphasia will improve greatly on their own within a few months.

However, many people will have some level of aphasia even after these first few months. This is where speech therapy rehabilitation comes in.

The goal of speech therapy for aphasia is to improve your ability to communicate, both written and verbally. This may include:

  • Using remaining language capabilities
  • Repairing lost language capabilities
  • Finding new ways to communicate, such as pictures, gestures, and electronic devices

Speech therapy rehabilitation includes exercises that focus on everything from vocabulary to memory to reading and writing. It addresses a wide range of concerns, including issues with:

  • Listening, speaking, reading, and writing
  • Memory, thinking, or organization
  • Pronunciation
  • Slurred speech
  • Swallowing
  • Fluency

Speech therapy is a highly individual process. Our speech pathologists work with you to create a plan to address your unique needs. This may involve the use of additional communication devices, such as communication boards and other tools.

How an aphasia support group can help with recovery

Support groups are an excellent resource for many medical conditions. They provide a place to talk about your experiences and learn coping strategies that have worked for others. For stroke-related aphasia, support groups come with an additional benefit — plenty of safe opportunities for communication.

Aphasia support groups offer a space to regain your confidence in communicating with others who know what you're going through. This can help you improve your ability to speak, listen, and understand — all while building supportive and trusting relationships.

Main Line Health's Aphasia support group is designed specifically for people with aphasia to improve communication and social skills. The group is run by a speech-language pathologist who is there to support the group as a whole and on an individual basis.

For more information, call 484.596.5725.

Recovering from a stroke takes time and support. With helpful resources, support from skilled professionals, and a little patience, you can make progress — one day at a time.

Learn more about stroke and stroke-related aphasia by talking with a stroke specialist at Main Line Health. Call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654).