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How do emotions affect people with aphasia?

New evidence suggests that people with aphasia may find it harder to retrieve words if there is a positive or negative connotation associated with them.

<p>Language is important for social interaction, but more than 140,000 Australians have aphasia, a condition that impairs language ability. [Source: Shuttershock]</p>

Language is important for social interaction, but more than 140,000 Australians have aphasia, a condition that impairs language ability. [Source: Shuttershock]

Key points:

Results released recently suggest that emotions could affect the accuracy and speed of word retrieval for people with aphasia. Researchers found that ‘emotional stimuli, especially negative stimuli, appear to result in worse naming performance’ in people with aphasia compared to words that had neither a positive nor negative meaning.

Aphasia occurs most commonly in people who have had a stroke — one in three people who’ve had a stroke will have aphasia. However, neurodegenerative disorders and dementia can sometimes result in language disorders such as aphasia.

More than 140,000 Australians are estimated to be currently living with aphasia.

This communication disorder can affect all aspects of language, such as one’s comprehension, writing, speaking and reading. 

Aphasia can significantly affect a person’s life with symptoms including:

  • not being able to speak in full sentences;
  • having difficulty with understanding conversations;
  • struggling to write coherent sentences;
  • utilising words or phrases that don’t make sense.

Aphasia is more common in adults over the age of 65 and is seen much less frequently in younger age groups. 

In this particular study, two groups of people were involved: people with aphasia and people who did not have aphasia. By including the latter group, also known as a control group, the researchers could compare results to people who are unaffected by a language disorder. This helped researchers to determine if all people react in a certain way to particular prompts, or just people with aphasia.

This study involved using word and picture prompts with varying emotional connotations to stimulate word retrieval in people with aphasia.

Neutral words and images may include cotton, floor and house, whereas negative connotations may be associated with items such as prison, rubbish and skull. Conversely, words that have a positive meaning could include puppy, food and bed. 

People with aphasia struggled more when there was an emotional connection to the word [positive or negative] in this study and ‘this effect appears to be relatively robust across different types of naming tasks that [vary] by word class [nouns versus verbs] and stimulus types [pictures versus words].’

Results from the study suggest that prompting someone with aphasia may be more effective when using words with neither a positive nor negative connotation. However, the researchers believe that further studies are required to better understand the correlation between prompts and word retrieval in people with aphasia.

While these discoveries could help develop more treatments, other therapies are available in Australia for people with aphasia. These generally involve health professionals such as speech pathologists. Depending on the person’s severity of aphasia, a speech pathologist may work with them and their family to improve their quality of life in a number of ways.


According to Speech Pathology Australia, a speech pathologist may:

  • provide an assessment of their communication strengths and difficulties;
  • develop strategies to assist in communication;
  • help them re-learn language skills;
  • educate their loved ones about adapting their communication styles.


While seeking professional help can be beneficial, some ways you may be able to improve communication between yourself and a person with aphasia include:

  • using visual references when speaking;
  • allowing plenty of time for the person with aphasia to respond after a question;
  • not changing a conversation topic too quickly;
  • using shorter sentences when possible.


How do you like to engage in conversation with someone with aphasia?

Let the team at Talking Aged Care know on social media.

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Relevant content:

Mind-reading and non-verbal communication — no, seriously

What older Australians want out of the new Aged Care Act

Major concerns raised with the Aged Care Act Exposure draft

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