What is Wernicke Aphasia?

Wernicke’s aphasia (also known as fluent aphasia) is a language disorder and is named after the man who discovered its existence in 1874: Carl Wernicke. He first described it as an amnesiac disorder whereby the patient was able to speak fluently, but in an incoherent fashion. He also noted that spoken language was affected and the patient had problems understanding speech and written language. Wernicke named the condition disorder sensory aphasia, but this name was later changed to Wernicke’s aphasia.

What are the causes of Wernicke’s aphasia?

Wernicke’s aphasia is caused by damage or injury to the Wernicke’s part of the brain, an area that helps us to understand spoken language. The symptoms of aphasia, including Wernicke’s aphasia, are normally caused by a stroke, particularly in older patients, but the symptoms can also be the result of a traumatic brain injury, an infection, or a brain tumour. Aphasia is a common symptom of stroke and around 20% of stroke patients suffer from some kind of aphasia in the aftermath of a stroke.

What are the symptoms of Wernicke’s aphasia?

A patient suffering from Wernicke’s aphasia will have no problems articulating speech and will sound quite fluent. In mild cases of fluent aphasia, some of the words may be incomprehensible, but in more severe cases, everything the patient says will be utterly meaningless. The words might have the same rhythm as normal speech, but it will be gibberish and contain no useful information whatsoever.

Although the person with Wernicke’s aphasia will create sentences full of random words, they will be unaware of the fact as to them it will feel as if their words are being understood. However, as time passes, the patient might begin to realise that other people are unable to understand them, which usually leads to frustration, anger, and eventually depression.

An inability to understand spoken language has several consequences: not only are we unable to understand what someone is saying to us—we will also have a problem understanding our own words, which means we lose the ability to form a coherent sentence.

Classic example of Wernicke Aphasia

What are the consequences of fluent aphasia?

When a patient is suffering from fluent aphasia, their biggest problem is that they are unable to communicate verbally with family, friends, and carers, which makes aphasia a serious disability.

What is the treatment for Wernicke’s aphasia?

Some stroke victims will eventually recover their language skills following a stroke, but in cases of strokes or brain injury where the damage is irreparable, some kind of therapeutic treatment will be necessary in order to help the patient find different methods of communication. Because Wernicke’s patients are able to understand and use non-verbal forms of communication, therapists have had good success with helping patients learn new skills for communicating without speech, which can help then perform everyday tasks such as shopping or interacting with family and friends.

What other conditions can be mistaken for aphasia or produce similar symptoms?

Dementia can cause problems with speech impairment and cognitive understanding, but the symptoms of dementia are normally accompanied by a much broader loss of language and cognitive skills and the disease will continue to worsen.

Dysarthria is a speech disorder, but unlike fluent aphasia, dysarthria is a problem with the formation of language rather than a problem understanding language.

Apraxia of speech causes problems with the rhythm and timing of spoken words, but is more to do with articulation of language than understanding it.

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