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What Is Fluent Aphasia?

By Natalie M. Smith
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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Fluent aphasia, also called Wernicke's aphasia, is a language disorder caused by brain damage. Affected individuals are often severely impaired in their reading, writing and speaking abilities. Fluent aphasia is characterized by its relation to nonfluent aphasia, and it usually impairs communication to a greater degree.

Aphasia of any type affects one's ability to produce and understand written and verbal communication. The condition is caused by damage to the brain's language center, which might be the result of a stroke or other medical condition. Where the damage occurs determines the type of aphasia that one might develop. People who have fluent aphasia usually have sustained damage to the middle left side of the brain, specifically the Wernicke's area.

Fluent aphasics essentially exhibit the opposite symptoms of nonfluent aphasics. Generally, nonfluent aphasics can speak only in short but intelligible phrases, might understand the speech of others, have trouble writing but might be able to read and are often aware of their communication difficulties. Conversely, fluent aphasics can typically produce spoken language at length but tend to be unintelligible. They don't often understand others' speech, might not be able to read or write and aren't aware of their impairments. As with other aphasias, fluent aphasia has different levels of severity, so individuals might exhibit some of these characteristics but not others or might exhibit some to a greater or lesser degree.

Research shows that fluent aphasia usually affects very specific communication structures. For instance, fluent aphasics have no trouble articulating words but often have difficulty forming grammatical sentences or producing speech without nonsensical utterances. If they can write, their handwriting might be normal, but their written work is patterned after their impaired speech.

Another distinguishing feature of fluent aphasia is that people don't commonly develop the disorder in conjunction with physical disability. This is because the damaged Wernicke's area of the brain doesn't control movement. On the other hand, those who have nonfluent aphasia might experience partial paralysis because the damaged area of the brain that causes their aphasia also controls certain motor functions.

Treatment for fluent aphasia is the same as for other forms: language therapy, learning alternative communication techniques and training friends and family members to support recovery. Aphasics might heal rapidly or without assistance, but most regain only some of their previous abilities and require two years of therapy. Overall, the prognosis for fluent aphasics is worse than for nonfluent aphasics. This is because their symptoms generally are more severe, and their inability to recognize their communication disorder might make them resistant to treatment.

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