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What s Primary Progressive Aphasia?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Primary progressive aphasia is a degenerative neurological disorder affecting the frontal or temporal lobe of the brain. This disorder causes language recognition and communication issues, usually starting with frequent pauses to find the proper word while speaking and forgetting the names for things or words that express certain ideas. The disorder will usually ultimately culminate in a complete loss of communication abilities and the person suffering from this disorder is likely to end up mute and unable to communicate verbally or in writing. Primary progressive aphasia is relatively uncommon, though is most common for people over the age of 60 and can result in isolation and depression due to the loss of expression.

This type of aphasia typically is based on degeneration of the left hemisphere of the brain, often the frontal region. Atrophy of this region of the brain, sometimes accompanied by scarring, is typically seen as the root cause of primary progressive aphasia. While there are some incidences of primary progressive aphasia being genetic or hereditary, this is extremely rare and usually only occurs in situations in which numerous family members of a person have all suffered from the disorder. It is typically a disorder with no other apparent causes, though prior learning disorders such as dyslexia are fairly common for those who eventually suffer from this sort of aphasia. Both conditions are caused by issues in the same region of the brain.

Early diagnosis of primary progressive aphasia stems from conversations with a patient and observed difficulties with language and expression. Once the disorder has progressed further, however, this type of diagnosis can be hampered by the very nature of the disorder. Brain scans from a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine can often be used to find damaged areas of the brain and properly diagnose this type of aphasia once it has developed further. Once diagnosed, most people suffering from primary progressive aphasia will lose most or all of their ability to communicate effectively within about 10 years.

Though testing continues, there have been no successful medical treatments for primary progressive aphasia. Some doctors have tried using medication intended for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to treat the disorder, but no positive results have yet been reported. Other brain functions are typically not affected by the disorder, and those suffering from primary progressive aphasia can typically continue to care for themselves for some time. Once the disorder progresses further, however, they can easily become isolated and depressed due to the loss of communication. Family members and friends of anyone suffering from this disorder should attempt to minimize these secondary issues and maintain relationships with those who have this type of aphasia.

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