To diagnose primary progressive aphasia, your doctor will review your symptoms and order tests.
Worsening communication difficulty without significant changes in thinking and behavior for a year or two is a hallmark of primary progressive aphasia.
Doctors might conduct a neurological examination, a speech-language evaluation and a neuropsychological evaluation. Tests will measure your speech, language comprehension and skills, recognition and naming of objects, recall, and other factors.
Doctors might order blood tests to check for infections or look for other medical conditions. Genetic tests can determine if you have genetic mutations associated with primary progressive aphasia or other neurological conditions.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can help diagnose primary progressive aphasia, detect shrinking of certain areas of the brain and show which area of the brain might be affected. MRI scans can also detect strokes, tumors or other conditions that affect brain function.
A single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) scan, which creates a 3D image of your brain, or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which shows brain function, can uncover blood flow or glucose metabolism abnormalities.
Primary progressive aphasia can't be cured, and there are no medications to treat it. However, some therapies might help improve or maintain your ability to communicate and manage your condition.
Speech and language therapy
Working with a speech-language pathologist, focusing primarily on ways to make up for lost language skills, can be helpful. Although speech and language therapy can't stop the progression of the condition, it can help you manage your condition and may slow the progression of some symptoms.
Coping and support
Losing the ability to communicate can be stressful and frustrating, both for the person with primary progressive aphasia and friends and family. If you're a caregiver of someone with primary progressive aphasia, taking these steps can help everyone cope:
- Learn all you can about the condition.
- Have the person with the condition carry an identification card and other materials that can help explain the syndrome to others.
- Give the person time to talk.
- Speak slowly in simple, adult sentences and listen carefully.
- Take care of your personal needs — get enough rest and make time for social activities.
Family members eventually may need to consider long-term care options for the person with primary progressive aphasia. They may also need to plan the person's finances and help make legal decisions to prepare for more-serious stages of the condition.
Support groups may be available for caregivers and people with primary progressive aphasia or related conditions. Ask your social worker or other members of your treatment team about community resources or support groups.
Preparing for your appointment
If you're experiencing symptoms, you might start by seeing your primary care provider. He or she may refer you to a doctor trained in brain and nervous system conditions (neurologist) or a speech-language pathologist.
What you can do
When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as fasting before having a specific test. Make a list of:
- Your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
- Key personal information, including major stresses, recent life changes and family medical history
- All medications, vitamins and supplements you take, including doses
- Questions to ask your doctor
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help with communication and to help you remember the information you receive.
For primary progressive aphasia, some questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's likely causing my symptoms?
- Other than the most likely cause, what are other possible causes?
- What tests do I need?
- Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
- What's the best course of action?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there restrictions I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
What happens during your appointment will vary depending on the type of doctor you see. Your doctor may ask:
- When did your symptoms begin?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?