Aphasia Syndromes

Aphasia is an acquired disorder of language. It can manifest in various ways, including difficulty speaking or difficulty understanding speech or language. Stroke is the most common cause of aphasia with up to 40% of stroke patients experiencing some sort of aphasia. Depending on the nature of the injury (e.g., stroke, tumor, trauma), aphaisa can be temporary or permanent. Even in cases of severe stroke, some types and aspects of aphasia are treatable, with language improving over time. While language does not usually return to pre-morbid functional levels, many people with aphasia benefit greatly from speech therapy.

The following videos demonstrate two different types of aphasia – Broca’s aphasia (or non-fluent) and Wernicke’s aphasia (or fluent). Notice the differences between the aphasias.

Here is a patient with Broca’s aphasia.

Here is a patient with Wernicke’s aphasia.

Sen. Kennedy’s Brain Tumor

Sen. Ted Kennedy, one of the last of the siblings of JFK and Bobby who is alive recently was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in his left parietal lobe. His first symptom was a seizure. As soon as I heard that he had had a seizure I started wondering about a tumor. There aren’t too many reasons someone would have a seizure out of the blue at the age Sen. Kennedy is. Too much stress possibly could cause a seizure as could an adverse reaction to certain medications but those are not likely. Children often can have a seizure at random with no other symptoms or no specific underlying problems but it’s very rare for older adults to experience seizures without very specific reasons, such as a brain tumor (it’s very common to have seizures if you have a brain tumor).

Sen. Kennedy’s tumor, as stated earlier, is in his left parietal lobe. Depending on its specific location and size, the tumor could disrupt his ability to comprehend language (if it disrupts Wernicke’s Area). It could also affect his ability to integrate visual and motor information as well as affect his motor or sensory functioning on his right half of his body. All of those symptoms are speculative without neurological testing, of course, but the parietal lobes are involved in a number of functions, including sensory and cognitive integrative functions.

The good news is that this form of cancer – a glioma – does not spread to other parts of the body (although it could continue to grow in the brain). It is also treatable by resection and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is far from an enjoyable process (it’s a treatment that practically kills people) but it can be very successful. While Sen. Kennedy’s prognosis is uncertain he could survive the cancer with relatively few lasting effects. I don’t think anyone can survive brain surgery and chemotherapy without at least some┬álasting cognitive deficits (although the deficits might be very hard to detect) but the outcome of gliomas is not always grim.