About one million people in the US have aphasia. Some people with this condition have just a little trouble finding the right words. But others lose virtually all of their ability to speak, read, write and understand language. Most cases fall somewhere in between.
The cause of aphasia is most often a stroke or head injury. But brain tumors and other neurological disorders such as frontotemporal dementia also can lead to aphasia. Latest news: Exciting new treatment approaches are being developed.Best options now…
In traditional speech-language therapy for aphasia, patients typically have 30-to-60-minute appointments two or three days a week for a limited period of time. In contrast, with a new type of treatment program called an Intensive Comprehensive Aphasia Program (ICAP), many types of therapy for aphasia, including individual, group, computer-based and sometimes cutting-edge or experimental therapies, are provided for at least three hours a day, four to five days a week for two to six weeks.
Scientific results increasingly support the role of intensive therapy programs for boosting aphasia recovery.
There are currently only a handful of ICAPs in the US, mostly at universities or hospitals, but the number is growing. Ask your speech-language pathologist for locations and if an ICAP would be appropriate for you.
Other Treatment Advances
Even if you can’t participate in an ICAP, some of the latest treatments are available in traditional therapy programs. Breakthrough and experimental approaches…
• Constraint-induced aphasia therapy (CIAT). With this treatment, the patient is urged to use only spoken words—with no compensatory strategies such as gestures or writing—during therapy sessions that might last for two or more hours per day. Scientific results on its effectiveness are encouraging.
• Computer software programs and apps can allow patients to work on speech skills independently—whether at a speech clinic or at home.
Examples: In one software program called AphasiaScripts from Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, a virtual therapist gives patients scripts for handling a variety of common situations, such as ordering a cup of coffee. Practice can give patients the confidence to use these words outside of therapy. And Constant Therapy is an app that provides speech, language and cognitive exercises that change as you make progress. The company can send progress reports directly to a patient’s therapist. Aphasia.org lists other recommended apps for aphasia.
Important:Check with your therapist to find out which apps and programs might work for you and how best to use them.
• Noninvasive brain stimulation. This involves using a painless electrical current to stimulate or inhibit certain areas of the brain, with the hope of enhancing speech recovery. This is currently available only through clinical trials.
On the horizon: Hybrid therapies. Combining aphasia treatment and movement therapy for stroke survivors and others who struggle with both kinds of impairments is in the early stages of investigation but holds promise for poststroke speech and movement recovery.
Handling the Costs of Therapy
Insurance typically covers only a specific number of sessions and may not cover newer or experimental treatments. However, you may be able to get free or reduced-cost therapy at a university clinic staffed by students supervised by licensed therapists…or be eligible for a clinical trial that explores innovative treatments—costs are often covered. Check ClinicalTrials.gov.
Vital for Improvement
Patients see more improvement if they practice their skills at home and in their communities and have the support of family and friends who encourage them to communicate.
To find aphasia therapy programs and speech-language pathologists near you, go to Aphasia.org or ASHA.org.