Many people had heard little if anything about aphasia until actor Bruce Willis’ family announced recently that he was “stepping away” from acting because he suffers from it. While aphasia typically results from a brain injury, it affects people very differently. While it can be progressive and permanent in some cases, it can also be temporary.
Gabby Giffords shared her own struggles with aphasia after the Willis family announcement. Hers is the result of being shot in the head 11 years ago when she was a member of Congress.
How TBIs can cause aphasia
A concussion suffered in a car crash, fall or another event can cause aphasia as well. Aphasia affects the ability to understand and/or produce language. The main language centers of the brain are in the left hemisphere. Therefore, if that’s where the damage occurred, a person who suffered a concussion or other traumatic brain injury (TBI) can suffer aphasia.
In many cases after a concussion, the aphasia is temporary. However, if it doesn’t appear to be clearing up on its own after a few days, it’s wise to talk to your doctor.
How aphasia can affect language skills
Aphasia can manifest in different ways. The two primary types are:
- Receptive aphasia, which affects the ability to recognize and understand words
- Expressive aphasia, which affects the ability to produce words, either verbally or in writing
Former Rep. Giffords described a common form of expressive aphasia called anomic aphasia when she said, “The words are right there on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t always get them out.”
Early treatment can be key
If you or a loved one is experiencing language difficulties after a TBI that aren’t resolving on their own, it’s important to ensure that the brain injury isn’t more serious than may have been first diagnosed. If therapy is recommended, the sooner you start it, the better the chances are of recovering your full language capabilities. Language, singing and cognitive therapies have been shown to help
Brain injuries are tricky things. No one can be certain in the initial days or even weeks what the short- and long-term ramifications will be. That’s just one important reason why you should never accept a settlement from those responsible for the injury or their insurance company before you know the full extent of your injuries and their effect on your life.