What Is Aphasia?

Most of us have felt the frustration of a dropped call on a cell phone. But suppose you woke up one morning to find all your communication interrupted by a lost connection in your own brain? Suddenly, you discover that even simple words are hard to find. People who speak to you don’t make sense. Reading and writing become agonizing chores. Overnight your whole world has changed.

Although you would feel very isolated, you wouldn’t be alone. More than a million Americans live with aphasia, an acquired communication disorder caused by damage to one or more language zones in the brain. Aphasia is most often the result of a stroke but can also be caused by traumatic brain injury, a brain tumor or other neurological diseases. Depending on the size and location of the brain injury, the disorder can be mild to profound, affecting multiple forms of communication or a single ability. Currently there is no known cure.

The good news is that, except in cases of progressive neurological disease, the ability to communicate gradually improves over time and with treatment. Researchers at Boston University and elsewhere are currently working to improve diagnoses and treatment for individuals with aphasia. The efforts of patients themselves can make a dramatic difference, too. People can learn effective strategies for coping with aphasia and improving their abilities, especially when motivated and inspired by others with the disorder.