Primary Progressive Aphasia: information,challenges and moving forward

Aphasia can be defined as change in language.  The disorder is acquired after a person suffers some kind of brain damage.  The damage begins to affect the person’s ability to communicate and effectively express thoughts verbally.  In reference specifically to primary progressive aphasia, which is a form of dementia, this disorder has an impact on language only, and for a while does not have an impact on other functions such as mental capabilities. Since it is a form of dementia, primary progressive aphasia is in a group of related disorders that originate in the frontal or temporal parts of the brain.  The disorder preserves other mental functions for a few years, and most patients are able to perform routine activities such as holding a job, taking on hobbies, and taking care of themselves. Eventually, the disorder begins overtaking not only language, but the capability of performing daily activities that the person was once able to accomplish.

Primary progressive aphasia …

  • Usually begins with a problem in articulation and speaking due to a decline in brain cell degeneration. These problems will eventually render the patient unable to speak even though their comprehension and verbal processing remain, for the most part, intact.
  • Another problem patient’s encounter is being able to come up with words, names, and phrases.  This has to do with the decline in the brain activities that harvest these abilities.
  • The symptoms of primary progressive aphasia, at first glance, seem parallel to those symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. Further insight into diagnosis reveals that the memory remains preserved, therefore, Alzheimer’s is not in effect.

Although not much has been done yet regarding Music Therapy and primary progressive aphasia, it is apparent that therapy in conjunction with music could really benefit a person with this disorder.  The sometimes tedious and exhausting task of focusing on language for an entire session can eventually halt progress.  Peoplewith primary progressive aphasia continue to decline in function, therefore speech therapy, although helpful and crucial, can become frustrating.  Music therapy in conjunction with speech therapy may in fact open new doors.  Music has a wonderful way of masking the extremely important tasks that the individual is working on, and makes those tasks seem more enjoyable and less frustrating.  If the patient enjoys music, using speech therapy techniques with music therapy techniques may allow activities to be easily approached and tackled.

I’ve had some really wonderful experiences working with my client this semester.  The linguistic and motoric techniques that have been put into effect during sessions have shown to have a great impact on my client, and the interdisciplinary work that is happening between Music Therapy and Speech therapy is the first documented form of its kind for Nazareth College.  I wish that I could continue to work with him into next year, but unfortunately it’s not possible.  This disorder has shown to some degree, that Music Therapy is in fact helpful, and allows the client to progress further than traditional speech therapy alone, although VERY important. The collaborative work between speech and music has allowed my client to start his journey toward a very positive experience with this new interdisciplinary work he is receiving.


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