Aphasia in the News
A new book authored by Brooke Hallowell, PhD, Springfield College dean of the School of Health Sciences, is bringing important attention to aphasia, a little-known, but very common disorder. According to Hallowell, who is known globally as an expert in this condition, aphasia is a loss of language ability following a change in the brain. The most typical causes are stroke and brain injury. It is known as an “acquired disorder” because people are not born with it. Aphasia is most commonly found in adults
Hallowell’s book, Aphasia and Other Acquired Neurogenic Language Disorders: A Guide for Clinical Excellence (second edition), is about aphasia and other neurological conditions that affect communication in adults, such as special communication challenges associated with traumatic brain injury and various forms of dementia. The book is primarily for students and practicing clinicians in speech-language pathology and related disciplines. It also has content that is useful for family members and friends who want to know more about these conditions and what can be done about them.
While the topic of aphasia has made the news in the past decade with well-know people, such as actor Bruce Willis and former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords having been diagnosed with different forms of the disorder, research shows that most people across the globe do not know about aphasia.
“In fact, aphasia is far more common than many conditions that are well known, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. The primary reason for this is that communication challenges restrict the ability of people with aphasia to advocate for themselves,” Hallowell said. “There is a global movement now for those of us who care about people with aphasia to team up with them to raise awareness about what aphasia is and how to support people with aphasia.”
Aphasia affects receptive language, such as reading and comprehending what others are saying, and expressive language, like converting one’s ideas into spoken or written words and phrases. It can be extremely severe, resulting in the inability to express oneself through speech, writing, or typing. It can also be mild, resulting in challenges primarily with finding words or using complex sentences.
Hallowell notes that aphasia is not an intellectual or mental disorder – a fact that is especially important because people with aphasia are often treated as if there is a problem with their intelligence. Although people with aphasia often have speech disorders, too, aphasia itself is not a speech disorder.
“Imagine the challenges for a person who is completely fine intellectually yet not able to communicate fully,” Hallowell said.
The book has received the endorsement of the National Aphasia Association, whose president described it as the “best and most comprehensive book on aphasia ever published.” The book has a special focus on helping the reader become an excellent clinical practitioner – which entails content well beyond what traditional books in this area provide.
“Aphasia affects a person’s entire life and has a critical impact on the lives of people who care about that person,” Hallowell said. “Experts don’t just treat reading, writing, listening, and speaking. They treat people holistically and delve into issues of identity, relationships, and life goals and priorities.”
Hallowell recently attended the International Aphasia Rehabilitation Conference in Philadelphia where she had an opportunity to share research with clinicians, researchers, and people with aphasia from many countries. She gives frequent keynote presentations and workshops internationally and serves as a consultant to the World Health Organization to advance access to services for communication-related disabilities.
“I am deeply engaged globally working across cultures and languages, especially helping build programming to support people with communication disorders and to develop educational programs in areas of the world where there are no or limited services,” she said.