Feb 13, 2012

WOW Word of the Week: Aphasia

Summary: Here's another brain-related A-word ...

Over the weekend, while curled in front of the fireplace and the television with my husband and our two cats, I was introduced to the story of Steve Goff. Formerly a successful Canadian business man, Goff suffered a stroke that left him with aphasia, or an inability to comprehend and speak words.

Aphasia can be caused by any number of brain injuries, as well as by birth defects and neurological diseases and disorders. Its effects vary from person to person—in Goff's case, he can speak a handful of expressive words and short phrases. During the televised interview I watched, he wrote singular, longer words on paper, and his daughter then translated his message into sentence form with Goff encouraging her along, saying, "Yes, yes," and "I know, I know, right!" His grasp of understanding the English language has not changed, however, his ability to formulate words has changed quite drastically.

In severe cases of aphasia, communication can be almost nil. But some communication is possible, and at least moderately successful proven therapies have included copying written words over and over to improve 'vocabulary,' and drawing for the same intention. When the distinctive visual aphasia is present, however, people with this brain challenge do not recognize written words either.

Other subsets of the disorder include receptive aphasia (normal speech with a hampered or non-existent ability to recognize written words), nominal aphasia (difficulty naming certain word groups, such as all verbs), and global aphasia which is the most severe form. However, even people in this subset are able to communicate with facial expressions and gestures. With creativity, regular communication is possible regardless of the severity.

Aphasia (eh - FAZH - ee - YAH)  or  (eh - FAZH - YAH) – (n.) loss of or impairment to word recognition and use, especially from some form of brain damage. Used medically in English as early as 1867, this Latin word derives from the Greek: a (without) and phasis (utterance).

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