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What is the Difference Between Aphasia and Dysphagia? 

Mar 14th, 2021 | by Hannah Schult

Hannah Schult

March 14th, 2021

Although aphasia and dysphagia sound similar, they actually mean completely different things. Aphasia is a language disorder, whereas dysphagia is a swallowing disorder. Let’s dive deeper into these conditions. 

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a condition that typically occurs in adults and results from damage to the left side of the brain (such as stroke or head injury). Depending on the location of the brain damage, Aphasia affects language expression and/or language comprehension. 

Aphasia vs. Dysphasia

What is the difference between aphasia vs dysphasia? Typically, the medical term “aphasia” refers to full loss of language whereas “dysphasia” refers to partial loss of language. Now, the term “aphasia” is generally used to describe both aphasia and dysphasia.

Non-fluent Aphasia 

Non-fluent Aphasia typically affects language output, such as speech production and grammar. Understanding language remains relatively strong with this type of Aphasia. Therefore, those with non-fluent aphasia know what they want to say but getting what they want to say out is very difficult. 

Fluent Aphasia 

Fluent Aphasia typically affects the understanding of language. A person with fluent aphasia produces sentences easily, but there is typically a lack of meaning behind those sentences or they don’t make sense with the situation. These individuals also don’t know that what they are saying is not making sense, so they may become easily frustrated. 

Aphasia Speech Therapy: Treating Aphasia

Treating aphasia is very similar to treating other language disorders. The individual will most likely be treated by a speech-language pathologist aiming to restore as much language as possible, teach compensatory strategies, and/or establish other methods of communicating. With aphasia therapy, it’s important to start as soon as possible and continue to practice outside of therapy to make the most gains.  

Strategies to Help Someone with Aphasia:

  • Use pictures and large print to support your communication. 
  • Speak slower to allow more processing time. 
  • Be patient and let the individual process and get the word(s) out. 

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder involving the mouth, throat, and/or esophagus, and can occur at any age. Because swallowing is a very complex process involving many muscles and nerves in the body, any situation that weakens or damages the muscles or nerves may result in dysphagia.  

Swallowing typically occurs in three stages: the oral phase (the mouth), the pharyngeal phase (the throat), and the esophageal phase (the esophagus). Depending on where the impairment is, an individual with dysphagia may have trouble holding and chewing food, protecting their airway when swallowing, or even have difficulties getting and keeping food in their stomach.  

Treating Dysphagia

Treatment for dysphagia depends on the individual’s age, the severity, and location of the impairment. However, the overall goal of dysphagia therapy is to ensure the individual is remaining hydrated and taking in the nutrition they need in a safe and efficient manner.  

Treatment for dysphagia may involve oral-motor exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in chewing, drinking, and swallowing. It may involve the use of compensatory strategies, such as using different postures, to help protect the airway or make things easier. Therapy could also involve modifying the diet to ensure safety while the individual works to make improvements through exercise. These modifications may include thickening liquids, changing the consistency and texture of the food, and changing the size of each bite. 

If deemed appropriate, NAPA Center offers VitalStim Therapy to help treat dysphagia in paediatric patients.

Strategies to help with dysphagia: 

  • Provide small bites. 
  • Place bites on your child’s molars to promote chewing. 
  • Engage in oral-motor exercises during mealtimes to strengthen muscles and increase range of motion. 
  • Provide high sensory foods and liquids, such as spices, carbonated beverages, cold temperatures, or citrus to help drive the motor response and increase awareness within the mouth. 

Find Additional Feeding Resources in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author

Hannah Schult is a paediatric speech-language pathologist at the NAPA Center in Boston. She has a passion for feeding therapy and helping kids improve their quality of life. When she is not treating, she loves to be outdoors, spend time with her family, and play with her dog, Teddy. 

TAGS: Blogs, Feeding