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Exploring Innovative Therapies for Wernicke's Aphasia Recovery

Since surviving a stroke last year, maintaining daily routines like enjoying a morning coffee ritual at the local café has become essential for Maria. These routines help her stay connected to her community, maintain her sense of self, and participate in activities she enjoys most in life. Diagnosed with Wernicke’s aphasia after her stroke, engaging in this familiar ritual has come with many challenges. However, consistent work with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) has ensured Maria continues to successfully participate in this meaningful morning tradition with confidence.

Managing Everyday Challenges with Wernicke’s Aphasia

As Maria approaches the barista, she recites the phrase she rehearsed in her speech therapy sessions: “One café latte please.”

Today, as she enters the café the music is particularly loud and distracting. Her rehearsed words seem to slip through her grasp, forming a jumble of fragmented thoughts. “I’ll have, um, you know, that café thing, with the, uh, stuff.” The barista asks for clarification. “What size would you like? And would you like it hot or iced?” Wernicke’s aphasia has made it hard to quickly process and understand what others are saying. 

Maria, unclear what has been asked, offers “We have like them in the morning over there.” Despite how fluently her words flow, it’s hard to pull up precise vocabulary. Maria reaches into her pocket where she and her speech therapist have prepared a laminated card with key phrases on it to support Maria in moments like this. Placing the card on the counter, Maria points to “One café latte, please. Whole Milk. Hot.” The barista nods, rings up the order, and exchanges greetings. Maria sits at a table and enjoys catching up with neighborhood regulars passing by.

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a neurological condition that affects different aspects of communication. It can affect:

  • Language comprehension
  • Language expression
  • Reading comprehension
  • Written expression

Some may experience changes to their comprehension of spoken and written language while others may have trouble finding the right words and expressing their thoughts and ideas.

It is typically caused by injury to language centers of the brain. Injuries may result from stroke, traumatic brain injury, or tumor. In some instances, aphasia may be a symptom of a progressive neurological condition such as Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA). 

Due to the diverse impact a stroke or brain injury may have on various brain regions, aphasia symptoms can present differently from person to person. Aphasia serves as an umbrella term encompassing numerous subtypes, each delineating distinct symptom patterns. In this blog, we will review symptoms and effective aphasia treatments for one aphasia subtype called Wernicke’s aphasia.

Wernicke’s Aphasia 

Wernicke’s aphasia refers to a specific type of aphasia characterized by difficulty understanding language and producing meaningful speech. Hallmarks of Wernicke’s aphasia include: 

  • Trouble understanding what others are saying
  • Fluent speech but reliance on vague language that contains many unspecific words such as “thing” and “it”
  • Verbal language lacks coherence and is difficult to understand
  • Difficulty recognizing language errors and communication breakdowns

Wernicke’s aphasia typically results from neurological changes in the left hemisphere of the brain in an area known as Wernicke’s region. This area of the brain is responsible for language processing and comprehension. Individuals with Wernicke’s aphasia exhibit fluent yet jargon-filled speech and have difficulty understanding spoken and written language. 

They may also struggle with retrieving words and are often unaware of their language differences or communication breakdowns. Despite the apparent fluency of their speech, their utterances may lack meaningful content or convey inaccurate information. 

Symptom severity can range from very mild to severe depending on several factors including the extent of neurological injury experienced.

Treatment and Therapies for Wernicke’s Aphasia

Speech therapy for adults plays a central role in Wernicke’s aphasia treatment. The treatment draws on scientifically-grounded speech therapy exercises that strengthen and rebuild language skills. It introduces compensatory strategies and guides individuals toward renewed communication and connection.

For those with Wernicke’s aphasia, exercises aim to improve awareness and attention to language. These exercises help individuals better understand what they hear and retrieve more precise terminology to express their thoughts.  A combination of multi-sensory exercises that capitalize on current strengths are used to strengthen and rebuild skills. Furthermore, 1:1 work with a trained speech therapist combined with communication partner training is most effective in helping people recover and function with greater ease and independence. 

Intensive speech and cognitive therapy utilizing multi-modal methods helps people improve and optimize communication that permits neuroplastic recovery to occur. Research shows intensive post-stroke treatment will bolster activity among different brain regions, ultimately making it easier to understand and speak. Intensive treatment and care partner training may lead not only to improved communicative effectiveness but also to improvements in meaningful verbal productions and the ability to identify and repair communication breakdowns when needed.  

Intensive Cognitive and Aphasia Program (ICAP) for Wernicke’s Aphasia

Open Lines® offers a state-of-the-art Intensive Cognitive and Aphasia Program (ICAP). These programs are ideal for individuals with Wernicke’s aphasia. Every program begins with an individualized 1:1 comprehensive evaluation with a licensed speech-language pathologist. Clinicians guide individuals through a series of tests to determine the precise nature of one’s communication strengths and areas of weakness. 

Using the results of this testing, we work with individuals and their care partners to create an individualized plan of action that incorporates a series of drill-based exercises. We also work together to plan functional activities that simulate daily activities to help carry these skills into everyday life. Each therapy session includes research-based approaches grounded in principles of neuroplasticity. These may include:

Verb Network Strengthening Treatment (VNeST):

  • VNeST therapy is aimed at strengthening semantic networks in the brain helping to increase word retrieval when speaking in sentences. VNeST can help individuals with Wernicke’s aphasia produce sentences with more specific vocabulary leading to improved ability to successfully convey intended meaning. 

Attentive Reading and Constrained Summarization (ARCS):

  • ARCS therapy strengthens language cohesion, coherence, and informativeness to help individuals accurately convey their messages. This is achieved through reading and summarizing exercises that hone various cognitive skills such as attention and language. 

Semantic Feature Analysis (SFA):

  • SFA therapy targets semantic processing to improve word-finding skills and the use of specific language when speaking. 

Communication Partner Training (CPT):

  • CPT involves training communication partners on how to use specific, personalized communication strategies to facilitate better communication between persons with Wernicke aphasia and their families, friends, and care partners.

At Open Lines, our team of specialized speech therapists is here to help you and your loved ones take the next step toward renewed communication and connection. By using innovative and evidence-based therapy treatments, individuals with Wernicke’s aphasia can experience positive outcomes and an improved sense of well-being.

For more information on Aphasia, see our blog on How to Communicate with People with Aphasia, and learn more about our Communication Groups.

Learn More About Our Services

Contact Open Lines today by phone at 212-430-6800, by email at [email protected], or through our contact form.  If you are ready to take the next steps in treating your speech, language, and voice difficulties, request an appointment to discuss your goals and review our service options.

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