Aphasia: what it is, what it depends on and what to do

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Bruce Willis has aphasia “which is affecting his cognitive abilities” and therefore, for the moment, “is moving away from the career that has meant so much to him.” These are the words of his wife Emma Heming launched on social networks and intended for all fans of the famous actor. A drama within a drama, because aphasia is a condition that, fate wills, it affects the ability to understand wordsbut also that of expressing oneself, of clearly articulating the sentences, of reading and therefore of reciting.

Aphasia is a problem that affects over 150,000 people in our country, with 20,000 new cases per year. «Aphasia is usually the result of an underlying pathology. For example, a stroke, a head injury or a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s, and it can be one of the initial signs “, explains Professor Luigi Ferini Strambia neurologist at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, where there is a neurorehabilitation center indicated by Aita, the Federation of Italian Aphasic Associations.

«Aphasia affects the brain areas that govern language, which is the reason for the difficulties in expressing oneself in an intelligible way for others. In any case, when the upstream damage is not clear, for example because the trauma to the head seemed light and apparently without consequences, or the degenerative disease had not yet been diagnosed, the neurologist performs several tests on the patient, which concern between the understanding of words, the fluidity of language, the ability to repeat and remember is another, ”explains the expert.

To treat aphasia, re-education is aimed at

Aphasia therapy starts from the moment in which the triggering pathology (such as stroke) is resolved, supports it and / or follows its own path, sometimes long. “It takes patience, and a lot depends on the starting damage and its reversibility, but i improvements I am possible», Explains the neurologist. “There are no drugs which specifically treat aphasia but focuses on rehabilitation, in particular on speech therapy, the science that re-educates language and is conducted by professionals trained specifically for this too ».

It is possible to recover

The improvements also depend on the age and state of health of the patient, but they can be important, as demonstrated by the story of the famous Rai journalist Andrea Vianello, who suffered from severe aphasia (“I could not even say the names of my three sons “, he says in the book written for Mondadori, Every word I knew) resulting from a stroke, and who is fine today and has returned to his job after a long rehabilitation. Anyone wishing further information and insights can contact Aita, the Federation of Italian Aphasic Associations (toll-free number 800-912326), which helps patients and family members manage the disease and provides, in addition to valuable information and updates on the subject, also the regional reference centers for rehabilitation and treatment. Another important link is that of the Italian Speech Therapists Federation, where you can also find experts in aphasia.

Speech therapy: how speech is recovered

The most important rehabilitation tool in cases of aphasia is the speech therapy, the “physiotherapy” of language. “In post-acute aphasia, such as that after a stroke, the goal is to recover the use and understanding of words,” he explains Elisabetta Banco, speech therapist and psychologist expert in neuropsychology. “In the case of a degenerative disease, the aim is instead to contain the damage as the disease progresses.” The speech therapist also works on the principle that words are connected to each other as in a network, activating each other. «A useful exercise we do, in case we can’t“ find ”a word, is to get there by logical connections», explains Banco. “If I don’t remember fork, I’ll ask the patient which category the object belongs to. And then: what is it for? Which shape does it have? Where do we find it? A linked object? Thus the circle tightens and the right term is recovered ». With time and patience, experts assure you, you can improve a lot.