IN YOUR PRIME: Aphasia and dementia are different. Here’s how to know

Neurological diseases like aphasia and dementia may be hard to differentiate from one another, but the two affect the brain in different ways.

Here’s how you can tell the difference between dementia and aphasia, the disease which led actor Bruce Willis’ family to recently announce his retirement.

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a neurodegenerative disease that can impact speech function in the brain. The disease affects the ability to communicate and speak. According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of aphasia may include the inability to speak in full or complete sentences, speaking in disjointed sentences, speaking unrecognizable words, confusing one word or sound with another, and the inability to understand speech.

Dementia, on the other hand, can cause speech inability, but it is a more general term that refers to cognitive decline and memory loss. Dementia involves the overall degeneration of brain tissue; it’s not limited to decline in speech function. The progressive disease damages the brain and impacts day-to-day function.

Causes of dementia and aphasia

Risk factors of dementia include age, genetics, cholesterol, smoking, excessive alcohol usage and diabetes. While various risk factors may increase the possibility of being affected by dementia, it does not mean a patient will get diagnosed with the condition. This makes it challenging to determine and predict who will eventually develop dementia. Early stages of dementia may look a lot like normal forgetfulness due to aging, and you may not be able to tell if you have dementia, according to Medical News Today.

Aphasia, however, often develops after a stroke, head trauma or a tumor, all of which can cause the brain to loose blood which causes brain cell damage in the area of the brain that controls speech function, according to Mayo Clinic. A speech pathologist diagnoses aphasia through comprehensive language assessments, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. A doctor may be able to diagnose aphasia through brain scans such as MRIs or CT scans.


Doctors recommend patients undergo speech therapy to treat their aphasia, but sometimes aphasia can improve without treatment. Speech therapy helps restore speech and increases communication skills. It can also help patients find alternative communication tactics, and serves as a resource to learn more about aphasia and how it affects a patient, according to Great Britain’s National Health Services.

There are no known cures for dementia. However, medication and other treatments may reduce or slow the symptoms of dementia, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Certain dementias that develop from treatable causes may be reversed. These causes include side effects from medication, removable tumors, metabolic disorders, low blood sugar and depression. Dementias caused by Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia associated with Parkinson’s and similar diseases, AIDS dementia complex, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease cannot be reversed. But there are medications available that help treat symptoms. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are medications that can slow the progression of the disease, or that can individually treat specific symptoms such as memory loss.

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