Aphasia: Imprisoned by words

December 9, 2015 by Marthe Roberge

L’aphasie, ou la prison des mots

Every year in Quebec, more and more people are affected by aphasia. The number of people in the province living with the condition is currently estimated at 4,000.

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a total or partial loss of the ability to communicate—to speak, write, calculate, and understand written and verbal messages. All of the aspects of language function are derailed, leaving sufferers incapable of expressing their needs or ideas. Deprived of their usual means of communication, people with aphasia often find themselves isolated from family and friends.

The causes

Aphasia is caused by damage to the language centres of the brain. It’s a devastating potential effect of stroke, head injury, and brain tumours. Aphasia can occur at any age, but is more common among people over 50.

The types

There are different kinds of aphasia, and different degrees (mild, moderate, and severe). Each case is unique—sufferers can struggle to understand language, use it to express themselves, or both.

  • Difficulty finding the right word, pronouncing words, or forming sentences
  • Inability to name familiar objects and well-known people
  • From confusion regarding certain words to complete incomprehension of language
  • Ambiguous replies (even to closed-ended “yes” or “no” questions) or, inversely, abundant discourse that makes little sense
  • Reduced attention and ability to concentrate; rapid fatigue

It’s important to understand that aphasia isn’t a mental illness and doesn’t diminish a person’s intellectual abilities. People with aphasia are therefore aware of the problem and need to be treated as adults. Helping them to communicate in spite of this invisible, little-known impairment takes patience, understanding, and a respectful willingness to listen.


RAPAQ, the alliance of associations for people with aphasia in Quebec, has 14 regional member associations. To learn more about aphasia, request an Aphasia Card (on the right), or find out about activities in your area, call 1-877-626-1473 or visit aphasiequebec.org (French only).

The Aphasia Card, a communication and education tool

The Aphasia Card can be used by people with aphasia to inform others of their condition and offer strategies to improve communication.

Carte Aphasie Recto

Carte Aphasie Verso

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