Aphasia Awareness Month Reminder: Pay Attention to Warning Signs of
June is National
Aphasia Awareness Month, a perfect time to recognize the dangers of
stroke. According to Michael Frankel, M.D., associate professor of neurology
at the Emory University School of Medicine and chief of neurology at
Grady Memorial Hospital, as many as 25 percent of stroke victims suffer
from a serious loss of speech and language comprehension. Commonly known
as aphasia, it is frustrating for patients and caregivers alike. It
is estimated that more than 1 million Americans suffer from some form
of aphasia, which can result from a stroke, brain tumor, seizure, Alzheimer's
disease, or head trauma.
"Aphasia is a very specific
condition that deals with disorder of language," Dr. Frankel said. "The
easiest way to explain it is that a person can't express what he wants
to say or cannot find the right words, or that someone else finds it
difficult to understand what the person is saying. It all depends, of
course, on how much of the brain is damaged. Damage usually occurs on
the left side of the brain for people who are right-handed. Left-handers
are also more likely to have language function located in the left hemisphere
of the brain, but some have it on the right side of the brain."
Dr. Frankel notes, however,
that there is a difference between aphasia and another disorder known
as dysarthria, which is characterized as a problem of articulation.
Both conditions can occur from stroke, or in tandem. A patient with
aphasia, for example, may not be able to understand or express what
she wants to say. A person with dysarthria, on the other hand, understands
everything and can express what she wants to say, but when she tries
to use muscles in the mouth and throat to speak, it becomes difficult
to coordinate the muscles correctly, resulting in slurred speech.
If a stroke is the cause
of aphasia, speech therapy can help treat aphasia, Dr. Frankel notes.
There are some patients with
aphasia, however, who do not undergo speech therapy but nevertheless
show signs of improvement. Dr. Frankel says it is important to recognize
aphasia as a symptom of stroke since difficulty speaking can often be
a warning sign. A person can exhibit signs of aphasia prior to suffering
"If a person has five minutes
of difficulty speaking where the words don't come out, or they come
out mixed up, that may be a warning sign of a stroke even if it lasts
just a few minutes," Dr. Frankel said.
The warning signs of stroke
also include sudden weakness on one side of the body or sudden numbness.
This is often a sign of a transient ischemic attack, signifying that
something is wrong with the blood vessels in the brain. At this stage
it is often possible to introduce treatment to intervene and prevent
another stroke from occurring. A stroke occurs when part of the brain
is deprived of oxygen and affected nerve cells die. The brain cells
that are killed cannot operate. The result is weakness, paralysis, or
difficulty speaking, like aphasia.
There is no known cure for
aphasia. According to the National Aphasia Association, 66 percent aphasia
cases result from stroke. Some patients are fortunate to recover completely
within the first few hours or days. This is known as transient aphasia.
If the symptoms of aphasia persist beyond the first two to three months
after a stroke, a complete recovery is unlikely. Recovery is a slow
process that usually requires a minimum of a year of treatment including
helping the individual and family understand and adjust to long-term
About the Grady Neurology
The Grady Neurology Center
has 5,000 clinic patient visits a year and treats diseases and disorders
such as headaches, stroke, epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's
disease, neuropathy, and muscle diseases. The department also has sub-specialty
clinics dedicated solely to memory assessment and epilepsy. The clinics
are staffed by neurologists from Emory University and Morehouse schools
of medicine. Grady was the first hospital in the southeast to create
an on-call Stroke Team available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In 2001, Emory's Department of Neurology at Grady became the coordinating
center for the Georgia Stroke Registry. This project involves 46 hospitals
in Georgia collecting data on patients admitted with stroke with the
ultimate goal of improving the quality of care at each of the participating