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Aphasia and Epilepsy

Epilepsy affects more than 250,000 Australians. For most people, epilepsy can be managed with medication alone. Even with treatment, around one third (1/3) of people with epilepsy will continue to have seizures.

Epilepsy can occur in many different parts of the brain. If language brain areas are involved in epilepsy, this can cause aphasia (language difficulties).

Epilepsy can cause aphasia temporarily before a seizure (pre-ictal aphasia), during a seizure (ictal aphasia), or after a seizure (post-ictal aphasia). Ongoing seizures can also lead to long-term aphasia.

Anomia is the most common language difficulty that people with epilepsy experience. People with anomia will often have trouble finding a word, even if they know what the word is.

Anomia can include difficulties with:

  • naming familiar objects,
  • recalling a specific word,
  • recalling names of family members and friends,
  • feeling that a word is on the tip of your tongue,
  • remembering the meaning of words.

Other language tasks that might be difficult can include:

  • understanding others,
  • contributing to conversations,
  • following conversations,
  • focusing on a conversation (especially in noisy environments).

Anti-seizure medications

Anti-seizure medications can cause side-effects, which can also affect language and communication.

This can include:

  • difficulty paying attention to what others are saying,
  • difficulty understanding others,
  • taking longer to respond,
  • becoming tired during conversations,
  • forgetting what has been said.

Epilepsy surgery

Sometimes, to treat epilepsy, parts of the brain that are important for language are removed. With surgery there is often a further risk of aphasia.

These changes to language can vary depending on:

The language difficulties experienced in epilepsy can change depending on frequency of seizures, medications used to manage seizures, tiredness due to seizures and medications, and any surgical treatment.

Speech-language pathologists can work with you to:

For more information about epilepsy, please visit the Epilepsy Foundation website

Content contributed by: Dr. Sonia Brownsett and Aoife Reardon.
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