A communication specialist from Hong Kong University’s Academic Unit of Human Communication, Development, and Information Sciences has published an article that discusses what clinicians have learned about relationships between the COVID-19 virus and aphasia. Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, highly contagious, and – in long covid – observed to compromise disparate organs and functional capabilities in patients chronically, researchers and clinicians are actively working to understand is its long-term impacts. The purposes of the present article are: [i] to assess clinical reports of COVID-19 inducing communicative deficits that resemble aphasia; and [ii] to discuss how challenges faced by persons with classic stroke-induced chronic aphasia are negatively impacted by COVID-19.
The author introduces reports of individuals with COVID-19 who present with aphasia-like symptoms in the absence of stroke-induced lesions. As an example, a 47 y/o woman in Italy presented with an expressive aphasia and general inattentiveness in the acute phase of encephalopathy induced by COVID-19. The patient’s respiratory involvement was mild, but frontal lobe dysfunction was notable, along with word-finding difficulties, agrammatism, and semantic paraphasia. Pharmacologic intervention with tocilizumab was initiated, and – over 2 months – the patient’s various deficits resolved. This instance is illustrative of a small but growing body of case studies reporting language impairment and executive function deficits reported in patients with COVID-19. Causal mechanisms appear to be heterogeneous, and may include – for example – encephalopathy, venous or arterial thromboses from coagulopathy, and pulmonary emboli. The author comments that ‘complications of language disturbances associated with acute aphasia can be one of the earliest features of COVID-19 among patients with neurological manifestations’, and he calls for further study of the matter.
In stroke survivors who are already in the chronic stage of aphasia when they contract COVID-19, the virus significantly exacerbates existing challenges by restricting gatherings, and by requiring masks and social distancing. Such developments can force cancellation of face-to-face speech therapy sessions with clinicians, reduce time shared together with family and friends, decrease participation In social activities of all sorts, and generally increase feelings of isolation and anxiety. The author observes that remote communication on ZOOM-like platforms can provide safe opportunities for socialization virtually, but notes that older persons can have difficulty accessing or using the technologies.
For further reading: Anthony Pak-Hin Kong, 2021, COVID-19 and Aphasia. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 21:61, 8 pp. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11910-021-01150-x