What happens in expressive aphasia, exactly?

What is it?

Aphasia is an inability to understand or formulate language because of a dysfunction of certain brain areas. Expressive aphasia, or Broca’s aphasia, is characterized by the loss of the ability to produce spoken or written language.

People with expressive aphasia have to exert a lot of effort in order to speak. They often use incomplete sentences in order to make things easier while still being understood. People with expressive aphasia might, for example, say “walk dog”, which could either mean that they intend to take the dog for a walk or that they want someone else to take the dog for a walk. They often understand language without problems unless complex sentence structures are being used, and their intelligence is not affected by the condition. They are aware of their condition, and because of this they are more prone to stress and depression. People who have suffered from expressive aphasia but recovered have said that they knew what they wanted to say, but weren’t able to express themselves.

What causes it?

Expressive aphasia is most often caused by a stroke. This means that cells in some brain area have died because a blood clot has prevented them from getting enough oxygen. Other possible causes include head trauma like concussions, tumors, and bleeding inside the brain.

What happens during it?

Expressive aphasia is linked to damage to a brain area called Broca’s area. Like with most brain areas, the functions of Broca’s area are roughly, but not fully, understood. For long it has been linked to things like language production and comprehension. There is now, however, increasing discussion about it’s involvement in working memory. Working memory is a short-term memory tool that allows us to remember things just long enough so that we can complete a task – we can, for example, remember a few digits at a time as someone is  spelling out their phone number to us. It might be that damage to Broca’s area leads to aphasia because it interferes with the part of our working memory that is supposed to help us remember what has been said before in a sentence. This would help explain why people with expressive aphasia are capable of producing and understanding single words, but have more difficulties when they need to comprehend the meaning behind a longer set of words.

How can it be treated?

There is no standard treatment for expressive aphasia. Usually the treatment is individualized based on the recommendations and assessment of a speech-language pathologist. Most patients go spontaneously through a period of recovery after the injury. An example of a useful exercise is repeating words and phrases. It is very important to establish a method of communicating with family and friends from early on, whatever that method might be.



Sources: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expressive_aphasia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broca%27s_area, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphasia#Broca.27s_aphasia



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