Aphasia vs. dysphasia: Differentiating symptoms and causes

aphasia vs. dysphasiaAphasia and dysphasia are language-associated conditions that are caused by damage or injury to the brain; however, there is a difference between the two. Understanding these differences can lead to a greater understanding of these communication problems.

If someone has aphasia, they are experiencing a total disruption of speech and comprehension, while dysphasia is a term used to describe a person who has a moderate condition that affects communication, yet they do not experience a total disruption of speech.


Aphasia is something that can interfere with a person’s ability to use or understand words, but what is important to know is that it is not a disorder that impacts a person’s level of intelligence.

Imagine for a moment that you have an idea of what you want to say but have difficulty finding the right words. Now imagine that you also have a hard time understanding other people when they speak and you struggle with comprehending written words or writing down words yourself. This is what aphasia sufferers experience daily.

Aphasia and dysphasia: Key differences

Let’s take a look at the differences between aphasia and dysphasia. Describing someone who can’t speak or understand what other people are saying sums up aphasia. Meanwhile, someone with dysphasia has more difficulty with comprehension. In the case of aphasia, a person is experiencing an extreme disorder and they find it difficult to talk because their brain is going through a total disruption. This can be due to a stroke, tumor, or neurological disorder. On the other hand, dysphasia is a less severe form of aphasia, and it makes it difficult to understand language because the brain goes into a disturbance mode. The disturbance can be caused by an injury or stroke. The treatment for aphasia and dysphasia is usually not the same.

Whether it is aphasia or dysphasia that is diagnosed, it can be very frustrating for the person who has the condition and for their loved ones. It can make communication difficult and lead to frequent misunderstandings.

Difference between symptoms of aphasia and dysphasia

People with aphasia will experience various symptoms depending on the location and extent of the brain damage. For example, damage to the front part of the brain can lead to choppy speech, while damage to the posterior regions of the brain may not affect the rhythm of speech but result in the use of wrong or even made-up words. Aphasia sufferers could have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty coming up with words
  • Substituting intended words for another word (e.g., chicken for fish)
  • Switching sounds (e.g., wish dasher for dishwasher)
  • Using made-up words
  • Difficulty putting words together to form sentences
  • Mixing real words with made-up words
  • Misunderstanding people who talk fast or use long sentences
  • Difficulty understanding speech in group situations or with noise in background
  • Taking literal meanings of figurative speech (e.g., “it’s raining cats and dogs”)
  • Difficulty reading and writing
  • Difficulty understanding number concepts such as time and money

On the other hand, dysphasia is often confused with the term dysphagia, which is a swallowing disorder. Due to this misunderstanding, healthcare professionals often revert to calling it aphasia. The reality is that aphasia symptoms are different than dysphasias.

Dysphasia symptoms vary from one person to another. For instance, some people with the communication disorder have a few of these symptoms, while others experience all of them.

  • Difficulty understanding
  • Difficulty listening
  • Difficulty writing or doing calculations
  • Delayed language output
  • Difficulty with daily tasks such as shopping and answering the phone

Causes of aphasia and dysphasia

The causes of aphasia are usually related to stroke or brain injury in one or more areas of the brain that are linked to language. According to The National Aphasia Association, between 25 and 40 percent of stroke survivors experience aphasia.

Aphasia can also be caused by a brain tumor, an infection, or dementia. It has even been identified as a symptom of epilepsy.

There are a number of medical conditions that have been associated with dysphasia, including Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, stroke, Bell’s palsy, brain tumors, brain abscesses, transient ischemic attacks, seizure disorders, and head trauma. Any kind of inflammation or infection in the brain can also cause dysphasia.

Aphasia and dysphasia: Treatment options

Sufferers can recover to some extent. Aphasia treatment is based largely on language therapy. The idea is to help regain some ability to communicate and help sufferers develop new ways of communicating. Today, there are computer-based programs available to help people who have aphasia. Some people are able to recover to a certain degree, while others recover completely. If the aphasia is related to a progressive neurological condition, the chances of recovery are poor. This is because there is no way of repairing and preventing ongoing brain injury. When a progressive condition is the diagnosis, treatment is focused on helping the patient develop new ways of communicating and preparing for further speech difficulty.

When it comes to dysphasia treatment, speech therapy is often required. It can be very effective in helping to improve communication. Talking slowly, repeating words and short sentences as well as using drawings can be a big help to those with dysphasia. It is also a good idea to try to avoid large crowded areas and places where there is a lot of noise and distraction.


Preventing aphasia and dysphasia is really all about leading a healthy lifestyle and closely monitoring existing health problems. This will help reduce risk factors that could cause damage to the brain. Avoiding drug use and smoking, limiting salt and fats, controlling high blood pressure, staying mentally active, and getting a routine physical exam can also help you prevent aphasia and dysphasia.

Those who suffer from either of these language conditions have a hard time. Strangers often mistakenly think that they are drunk or confused. As mentioned above, strokes are the leading cause of aphasia. If you know someone who has suffered a stroke, remember to have patience with them and be there to support them through what is likely one of the most difficult time of their lives.

Related: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) linked with buildup of Alzheimer’s plaques



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