Advance with MUSC Health

Ask A Speech Pathologist: Jen Skinner, SLP, Answers Your Questions on Aphasia

Advance With MUSC Health
May 01, 2024
Blocks with letters that spell out "aphasia"

We reached out to hear your questions about aphasia, a condition impacting over 2 million Americans. Meet Jennifer Skinner, one of our dedicated Speech Language Pathologists at MUSC, as she addresses some common concerns about aphasia.

Q: What is aphasia?

A: Aphasia is a language disorder that affects how you can communicate. It is generally caused by damage to the left side of the brain, which is the language area of the brain. It can impact how you understand, receptively identify and communicate information. It can also impact your reading and writing abilities. The main thing to remember with aphasia is that it is not a matter of your cognition or how smart you are, but rather an impairment in your language.

Q: What causes aphasia?

A: Aphasia is most often caused by a stroke, but any change to the brain can also cause aphasia, specifically if it is in the left side of the brain. Things like traumatic brain injury, brain infection and brain tumors can also cause aphasia.

Q: How can you communicate with a person with aphasia?

A:  As a communication partner, when communicating with a person with aphasia, it is important to remember to slow down and use simple language. It is also important to remember to allow the person with aphasia more time to process what it is you are saying and more time to respond back with a message that they want to communicate. It is sometimes helpful to use gestures and pictures and ask yes/no questions to communicate information. Mainly, it is important to remember that it may take the person more time to process and respond to you.

Q: What does treatment look like for people with aphasia?

A: Treatment for people with aphasia will vary for people depending on individual differences. The most important treatment is to make sure that it is functional for the individual in their needs in their home and community environment. Treatment can focus on increasing your language and using new gestures to communicate. It can also focus on expanding the language that you do have. An important part of treatment is to carry over treatment skills at home to increase your language and your understanding every day. I always tell my patients that I am only with them for a few hours a week, so what they do at home will make all the difference in their therapy.

Q: If someone is unable to communicate verbally, what are their options?

A:  If a person is unable to communicate verbally, there are other ways that they can communicate in their environment. Some people will use gestures and or sign language to help them communicate, draw pictures, act out what they are trying to say or write small words or messages. For a more high-tech option, if they are not communicated verbally, individuals are able to use a speech-generating device. This will allow them to form and create messages with a voice output. Although it takes time to learn and get used to, it can be a great alternative for people who cannot use their voice anymore.

Experiencing Symptoms of Aphasia or Interested in Learning More?

Jen Skinner is a Speech Language Pathologist at MUSC in Charleston. Skinner’s clinical interests and expertise include cognitive-communication disorders, aphasia augmentative and alternative communication and motor-speech disorders resulting from TBI, stroke or progressive neurologic diseases.

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