How many people do you talk to in a day? Now, think about how many emails or texts you send. Communication is such a big part of our daily lives – so much so that many of us don’t think twice about it.
However, for those suffering from aphasia, communicating can become next to impossible.
These individuals may only be able to communicate in short or incomplete sentences, use unrecognizable words or speak in a way that doesn’t make sense, have difficulty finding the right words and fail to understand other people’s conversations.
“The ability to understand and speak in a way that can be comprehended is mostly in the left hemisphere of the brain, so any disease that affects that area of the brain can cause an impairment,” Paul LaPenna, DO, a neurologist in our Greenville market, explains. “That can be a stroke – that’s where I see it the most – but really anything that impairs that area, such as a brain tumor, dementia, traumatic brain injury, etc. Aphasia is a symptom of a disease, but it is not itself a disease.”
If you think the condition sounds familiar, you’ve likely seen it discussed in reference to Hollywood actor Bruce Willis. He announced his retirement from acting in 2022 due to the disorder, which we learned earlier this year was caused by frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
Despite this celebrity’s diagnosis bringing more awareness to the brain condition, there’s still a lot we don’t know about it.
“A fair amount of people who have frontotemporal dementia have family members who have similar syndromes, so there may be a genetic component,” Dr. LaPenna shares. “However, we don’t fully understand all the risk factors that go into developing that type of dementia.”
There’s a lot of research still to be done, and while FTD can be managed, it is a progressive condition which means there is currently no cure. Experts hope that will change one day. Until then, Dr. LaPenna says there are steps we can all take to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
“I know patients probably get tired of their doctors saying you need to eat better and exercise more, but in reality, those things are very good for our brain and do help prevent dementia,” Dr. LaPenna says. “In fact, most diseases could be prevented by doing those things, so that’s generally why we recommend them.”
The good news is aphasia is treatable, and in some cases can be addressed completely.
“Many people who have aphasia after suffering a stroke get significantly better. Sometimes they even begin to communicate normally,” Dr. LaPenna says.
He continues, “regardless of the cause, aphasia is mostly treated by seeing a speech pathologist and doing speech therapy. Just like if you hurt your knee and went to a physical therapist to regain strength and mobility, it’s the same thing – you work with that speech therapist to regain those capacities or compensate for those lost capacities.”
When dealing with someone who has aphasia, it’s also important to remember how frustrating it must be when you’re unable to communicate as freely as you’d like to. That’s why Dr. LaPenna believes patience and understanding are just as important as getting a diagnosis and treatment plan.
“As all of us age, we all lose human capacities that we once had when we were younger – memory, language, etc. Because of that, we should have empathy for those who suffer from these disorders. People who lose capacities often feel a burden to others, but they’re still fully human in every sense of the word. Therefore, they’re valuable and of infinite worth, and they should be treated with the same amount of dignity and respect as anyone else who still has these capacities.”
If you notice yourself or someone you love beginning to struggle with difficulty communicating, it may be time to check in with your primary care provider. They’re often the first step in getting a referral to a neurologist who can discuss any symptoms in more depth.
Learn about the neurology services we provide at Bon Secours.