For some people, aphasia will be temporary, resolving in the first few days or even hours after their stroke or brain injury. Others will have a long recovery of months or years. Some people may improve to a degree in the first few months, but will still live with a severe aphasia that affects their ability to communicate for the rest of their lives. It is rare for people to make no improvement at all.
The typical pattern of recovery is for aphasia to be at its worst initially, with spontaneous recovery occurring most rapidly in the first few days, weeks and even months. Spontaneous recovery is a term used to describe the improvement that happens as the brain heals from a stroke or brain injury. Traditionally, experts have advised people that there was a finite period of time during which the brain would heal, after which improvement was no longer likely. While they disagree over the length of time, some saying that spontaneous recovery would occur in the first three months and others saying a year, there has long been general agreement that there was a “window of opportunity” for improvement to be capitalized on by therapy, after which people improved mainly by adapting to their aphasia. More recently, some experts have questioned this idea of a limited window of opportunity for improvement. Scientists now talk about “brain plasticity ” and the ability for the brain to “rewire” itself.*
Many speech language pathologists who work with people with aphasia have seen people benefit from treatment years after their stroke. **However, even with treatment that might improve the condition somewhat, people who still have a significant aphasia after a year has passed (known as “chronic aphasia”) are likely to always have some degree of aphasia. For these people, or for people who struggle to communicate early on in their recovery from aphasia, it is important to use various tools and techniques to augment their communication; it is also very important for friends and family members to receive training on how to adapt their own communication style to allow for the person with aphasia to participate in conversations and social activities. (More about this in the section on Communication Tips)
* For some references on this subject, please see Links and References.
** At iTAWC, we believe that people with aphasia have the potential to improve their communication abilities with intensive treatment even years after their stroke, provided that there are no medical, sensory or cognitive conditions that would complicate recovery, and provided that they have the stamina to be involved in intensive treatment.
Learn more About Aphasia
Learn more about the Causes of Aphasia
Learn more about Who Can Help