That’s the dilemma for people who have aphasia, an impairment of the ability to use or comprehend words. About 1 million Americans have aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association, with about 100,000 new cases per year. (The name comes from the Greek word aphatos, meaning speechless.)
National Aphasia Awareness Month, observed in June, offers an opportunity to educate the public and dispel myths about the disorder. Many people mistakenly believe that it affects intelligence, for example, or that it is restricted to older people.
“The No. 1 cause of aphasia is stroke, which can occur in people of all ages,” says Daniel Woo, MD, a professor in the University of Cincinnati (UC) Department of Neurology and UC Health neurologist specializing in stroke. “Stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain either gets blocked off by a clot or bursts, with the result that part of the brain is damaged.
“From that damage, patients may lose the function in that part of the brain—including the ability to speak or understand speech.”
Woo, who is also a member of the UC Neuroscience Institute, says patients who have had temporary aphasia tell him, “I knew what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t get my mouth to make the words.”
About 20 percent of stroke survivors acquire aphasia, Woo says. It can also result from head injury, brain tumor or other neurological causes such as dementia.
Recovery from aphasia is possible, Woo says, but it usually occurs over an extended period of time.
“If someone loses the function in part of their brain, often other parts of the brain will then try and pick up the function of the injured parts,” Woo says, adding that research by Jerzy Szaflarski, MD, PhD, an associate professor in UC’s neurology department, has confirmed that phenomenon using functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
“It’s very rewarding when someone who has been in the hospital unable to speak or understand speech, over the course of months or even years, regains those abilities,” Woo adds.
Treatment for aphasia often requires a team approach, Woo notes, including speech therapists and psychologists. Such an approach is taken at UC Health’s Drake Center, where the Stroke Recovery Center at Drake offers the latest stroke recovery techniques.
Woo says it’s also important to remember that loss of the ability to speak is one of the key warning signs of stroke. If you find yourself having unexplained difficulty speaking, he says, you should seek emergency help immediately.
Media Contact: Keith Herrell, (513) 558-4559 Patient Info: For an appointment with a UC Health neurologist, call (513) 475-8730. For more information about the Stroke Recovery Center at Drake, call (513) 418-2470.