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Classification and external resources
ICD-10F80.0-F80.2, R47.0
ICD-9315.31, 784.3, 438.11
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Not to be confused with Aphagia.
For other uses, see Aphasia (disambiguation).
Classification and external resources
ICD-10F80.0-F80.2, R47.0
ICD-9315.31, 784.3, 438.11
Classification and external resources
ICD-10F80.1, F80.2, R47.0
ICD-9438.12, 784.5

Aphasia (/əˈfʒə/, /əˈfziə/ or /ˈfziə/; from Greek a- ("without") + phásis (φάσις, "speech")) is an acquired language disorder caused by damage to the brain.[1][2] This class of language disorder ranges from having difficulty remembering words to losing the ability to speak, read, or write, but does not affect intelligence.[1] This also affects visual language such as sign language.[2]

Aphasia is usually caused by brain damage, most commonly caused by stroke.[3] Brain damage linked to aphasia can also be caused by other brain diseases, including cancer, epilepsy, and Alzheimer's disease.[4]

Acute aphasia disorders usually develop quickly as a result of head injury or stroke, and progressive forms of aphasia develop slowly from a brain tumor, infection, or dementia.[1][5][6] The area and extent of brain damage or atrophy will determine the type of aphasia and its symptoms. Aphasia types include expressive aphasia, receptive aphasia, conduction aphasia, anomic aphasia, global aphasia, primary progressive aphasias and many others. Medical evaluations for the disorder range from clinical screenings by a neurologist to extensive tests by a speech-language pathologist or neuropsychologist.[1][5] Most acute aphasia patients can recover some or most skills by working with a speech-language pathologist. This rehabilitation can take two or more years and is most effective when begun quickly. Only a small minority will recover without therapy, such as those suffering a transient ischemic attack. Improvement varies widely, depending on the aphasia's cause, type, and severity. Recovery also depends on the patient's age, health, motivation, handedness, and educational level.[5] Therapy for aphasia ranges from increasing functional communication to improving speech accuracy, depending on the person's severity, needs and support of family and friends.[7]


The Third International Webster's Dictionary defines aphasia as: "The loss or impairment of the power to use words as symbols or ideas that results from a brain lesion." The word aphasia comes from the word ἀφασία aphasia, in Ancient Greek, which means[8] "speechlessness",[9] derived from ἄφατος aphatos, "speechless"[10] from ἀ- a-, "not, un" and φημί phemi, "I speak".

Classifying the various and differing subtypes of aphasia is difficult and has led to disagreements among experts. The localizationist model is the original model, but modern anatomical techniques and analyses have shown that precise connections between brain regions and symptom classification do not exist. The neural organization of language is complicated; language is a comprehensive and complex behavior and it makes sense that it is not the product of some small, circumscribed region of the brain.

No classification of patients in subtypes and groups of subtypes has proven fully adequate. Only about 60% of patients will fit in a classification scheme such as fluent/nonfluent/pure aphasias. There is a huge variation among patients with the same diagnosis, and aphasias can be highly selective. For instance, patients with naming deficits (anomic aphasia) might show an inability only for naming buildings, or people, or colors.[11]

Localizationist model[edit]


The localizationist model attempts to classify the aphasia by major characteristics and then link these to areas of the brain in which the damage has been caused.[12] The initial two categories here were devised by early neurologists working in the field, namely Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke. Other researchers have added to the model, resulting in it often being referred to as the "Boston-Neoclassical Model".

  1. Auditory verbal agnosia (also known as Pure Word Deafness)
  2. Conduction aphasia
  3. Apraxia of speech (now considered a separate disorder in itself)
  4. Transcortical motor aphasia (also known as Adynamic aphasia and Extrasylvian motor aphasia)
  5. Transcortical sensory aphasia

Progressive aphasias[edit]

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is associated with progressive illnesses or dementia, such as frontotemporal dementia / Pick Complex Motor neuron disease, Progressive supranuclear palsy, and Alzheimer's disease, which is the gradual process of progressively losing the ability to think. It is characterized by the gradual loss of the ability to name objects. People suffering from PPA may have difficulties comprehending what others are saying. They can also have difficulty trying to find the right words to make a sentence.[18][19][20] There are three classifications of Primary Progressive Aphasia : Progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA), Semantic Dementia (SD), and Logopenic progressive aphasia (LPA)[20][21]

Progressive Jargon Aphasia is a fluent or receptive aphasia in which the patient's speech is incomprehensible, but appears to make sense to them. Speech is fluent and effortless with intact syntax and grammar, but the patient has problems with the selection of nouns. Either they will replace the desired word with another that sounds or looks like the original one or has some other connection or they will replace it with sounds. As such, patients with jargon aphasia often use neologisms, and may perseverate if they try to replace the words they cannot find with sounds. Substitutions commonly involve picking another (actual) word starting with the same sound (e.g., clocktower - colander), picking another semantically related to the first (e.g., letter - scroll), or picking one phonetically similar to the intended one (e.g., lane - late).

Tripartite classification[edit]

The different types of aphasia can be divided into three categories: fluent, non-fluent, and "pure" aphasias.[22]

Primary and secondary cognitive processes[edit]

Aphasias can be divided into primary and secondary cognitive processes.

Cognitive neuropsychological model[edit]

Several neuropsychological models of aphasia have been introduced since Alexander Luria's seminal book in the 1960s titled Higher Cortical Functions in Man. The cognitive neuropsychological model of Max Coltheart builds on cognitive neuropsychology. It assumes that language processing can be broken down into a number of modules, each of which with a specific function.[25] Hence, there is a module that recognises phonemes as they are spoken and a module that stores formulated phonemes before they are spoken. In the clinical setting, use of this model involves conducting a battery of assessments (usually from the PALPA, the "psycholinguistic assessment of language processing in adult acquired aphasia ... that can be tailored to the investigation of an individual patient's impaired and intact abilities" [26]), each of which tests one or a number of these modules. Once a diagnosis is reached as to where the impairment lies, therapy can proceed to treat the individual module.

Deaf aphasia[edit]

There have been many instances showing that there is a form of aphasia among deaf individuals. Sign language is, after all, a form of communication that has been shown to use the same areas of the brain as verbal forms of communication. Mirror neurons become activated when an animal is acting in a particular way or watching another individual act in the same manner. These mirror neurons are important in giving an individual the ability to mimic movements of hands. Broca's area of speech production has been shown to contain several of these mirror neurons resulting in significant similarities of brain activity between sign language and vocal speech communication. Facial communication is a significant portion of how animals interact with each other. Humans use facial movements to create, what other humans perceive, to be faces of emotions. While combining these facials movements with speech, a more full form of language is created which enables the species to interact with a much more complex and detailed form of communication. Sign language also uses these facial movements and emotions along with the primary hand movement way of communicating. These facial movement forms of communication come from the same areas of the brain. When dealing with damages to certain areas of the brain, vocal forms of communication are in jeopardy of severe forms of aphasia. Since these same areas of the brain are being used for sign language, these same, at least very similar, forms of aphasia can show in the Deaf community. Individuals can show a form of Wernicke's aphasia with sign language and they show deficits in their abilities in being able to produce any form of expressions. Broca's aphasia shows up in some patients, as well. These individuals find tremendous difficulty in being able to actually sign the linguistic concepts they are trying to express.[27]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

People with aphasia may experience any of the following behaviors due to an acquired brain injury, although some of these symptoms may be due to related or concomitant problems such as dysarthria or apraxia and not primarily due to aphasia. Aphasia symptoms can vary based on the location of damage in the brain. Signs and symptoms may or may not be present in individuals with aphasia and may vary in severity and level of disruption to communication.[28] Often those with aphasia will try to hide their inability to name objects by using words like thing. So when asked to name a pencil they may say its a thing used to write.[29]

  • inability to comprehend language
  • inability to pronounce, not due to muscle paralysis or weakness
  • inability to speak spontaneously
  • inability to form words
  • inability to name objects (anomia)
  • poor enunciation
  • excessive creation and use of personal neologisms
  • inability to repeat a phrase
  • persistent repetition of one syllable, word, or phrase (stereotypies)
  • paraphasia (substituting letters, syllables or words)
  • agrammatism (inability to speak in a grammatically correct fashion)
  • dysprosody (alterations in inflexion, stress, and rhythm)
  • incomplete sentences
  • inability to read
  • inability to write
  • limited verbal output
  • difficulty in naming
  • speech disorder
  • Speaking gibberish
  • inability to follow or understand simple requests


Acute aphasias

The following table summarizes some major characteristics of different acute aphasias:

Type of aphasiaRepetitionNamingAuditory comprehensionFluency
Receptive aphasiamild–modmild–severedefectivefluent paraphasic
Transcortical sensory aphasiagoodmod–severepoorfluent
Conduction aphasiapoormildrelatively goodfluent
Anomic aphasiamildmod–severemildfluent
Expressive aphasiamod–severemod–severemild difficultynon-fluent, effortful, slow
Transcortical motor aphasiagoodmild–severerelatively goodnon-fluent
Global aphasiapoorpoorpoornon-fluent
Mixed transcortical aphasiamoderatepoorpoornon-fluent

Subcortical aphasias


Aphasia usually results from lesions to the language-relevant areas of the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes of the brain, such as Broca's area, Wernicke's area, and the neural pathways between them. These areas are almost always located in the left hemisphere, and in most people this is where the ability to produce and comprehend language is found. However, in a very small number of people, language ability is found in the right hemisphere. In either case, damage to these language areas can be caused by a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other brain injury.

Aphasia may also develop slowly, as in the case of a brain tumor or progressive neurological disease, e.g., Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. It may also be caused by a sudden hemorrhagic event within the brain. Certain chronic neurological disorders, such as epilepsy or migraine, can also include transient aphasia as a prodromal or episodic symptom.[32]

Aphasia can result from herpesviral encephalitis.[33] The herpes simplex virus affects the frontal and temporal lobes, subcortical structures, and the hippocampal tissue, which can trigger aphasia.[34]

Aphasia is also listed as a rare side-effect of the fentanyl patch, an opioid used to control chronic pain.[35][36] Adverse side effects including chronic aphasia can be caused by cortico-steroids.[citation needed]


There is no one treatment proven to be effective for all types of aphasias. The reason that there is no universal treatment for aphasia is because of the nature of the disorder and the various ways it is presented, as explained in the above sections. Aphasia is rarely exhibited identically, implying that treatment needs to be catered specifically to the individual. Studies have shown that, although there is no consistency on treatment methodology in literature, there is a strong indication that treatment in general has positive outcomes.[37]

After the onset of Aphasia, there is approximately a six-month period of spontaneous recovery. During this time, the brain is attempting to recover and repair the damaged neurons. Therapy for Aphasia during this time facilitates an even greater level of recovery than if no intervention was given at this time.[38]

A multi-disciplinary team, including doctors (often a physician is involved, but more likely a clinical neuropsychologist will head the treatment team), physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, and social worker, works together in treating aphasia. For the most part, treatment relies heavily on repetition and aims to address language performance by working on task-specific skills. The primary goal is to help the individual and those closest to them adjust to changes and limitations in communication.[37]

Treatment techniques mostly fall under two approaches:

  1. Substitute Skill Model - an approach that uses an aid to help with spoken language, i.e. a writing board
  2. Direct Treatment Model - an approach that targets deficits with specific exercises[37]

Several treatment techniques include the following:

More recently, computer technology has been incorporated into treatment options. A key indication for good prognosis is treatment intensity. A minimum of two–three hours per week has been specified to produce positive results.[41] The main advantage of using computers is that it can greatly increase intensity of therapy. These programs consist of a large variety of exercises and can be done at home in addition to face-to-face treatment with a therapist. However, since aphasia presents differently among individuals, these programs must be dynamic and flexible in order to adapt to the variability in impairments. Another barrier is the capability of computer programs to imitate normal speech and keep up with the speed of regular conversation. Therefore, computer technology seems to be limited in a communicative setting, however is effective in producing improvements in communication training.[41]

Several examples of programs used are StepByStep, Lingraphica, Computer-Based Visual Communication (C-VIC), TouchSpeak (TS), and Sentence Shaper.[41]

Melodic intonation therapy is often used to treat non-fluent aphasia and has proved to be very effective in some cases.[42] MIT is used to help people with aphasia vocalize themselves through speech song which is then transferred as a spoken word. Good candidates for this therapy include left hemisphere stroke patients, non-fluent aphasias such as Broca's, good auditory comprehension, poor repetition and articulation, and good emotional stability and memory.[43] It has been hypothesized that MIT is effective because prosody and singing is located within the right hemisphere; it is these right hemisphere language areas that are recruited for normal speech production.[44]


The first recorded case of aphasia is from an Egyptian papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which details speech problems in a person with a traumatic brain injury to the temporal lobe.[45] During the second half of the 19th century, Aphasia was a major focus for scientists and philosophers who were working in the beginning stages in the field of psychology.[2]


Following are some precautions that should be taken to avoid aphasia, by decreasing the risk of stroke, the main cause of aphasia:

Notable cases[edit]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]