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By Walt Kilcullen


Alexia is the term used when someone loses the ability to read or understand words, sentences, or, in some cases, even letters. It is also called visual aphasia or word blindness. This is fairly common after a stroke. It is caused by severe damage to the left side of the brain (the occipital and temporal lobes).


Alexia is a form of dyslexia but dyslexia is developmental, meaning that it does not happen from an occurrence such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Alexia is an acquired reading disability as a result of an acquired event such as a stroke. It is most common for alexia to be accompanied by expressive aphasia (the ability to speak in sentences), and agraphia (the ability to write).


All alexia is not the same, however. You may have difficulty with the following:


Recognizing words 

Difficulty identifying and reading synonyms

Difficulty with reading despite your ability to sound out pronunciation of words.

Although you can read words, it is too difficult to read for very long.

Blind spots blocking the end of a line or a long word.

Focusing on the left side of the paragraph or page.

Double vision when trying to read.

Reading some words but not others. Of course this makes reading impossible.

A stroke survivor with alexia that can read larger words, but cannot read tiny words such as “it,” “to,” “and,” etc.)

any combination of some of these traits


How do you combat alexia? Can it be fixed? Unfortunately, not much can be done about undoing alexia because there is not much scientific research that pinpoints the root cause of alexia. Further, even when a therapy works for one individual, it will probably not work for another individual. But there are things that you can do and try.


First, let a speech-language pathologist with experience with alexia do a formal diagnosis. He will be able to pinpoint the type of alexia that you have and suggest possible treatments and strategies. He will also be aware of the latest studies and treatments available.


Next, get a low vision examination by an ophthalmologist (not an optometrist) that has experience with alexia. If the problem is primarily damage to the visual field, he might be able to prescribe corrective lenses or be familiar with techniques to improve reading eye movements.


You can also try the following at-home treatments:


Silent reading is easier than reading out loud. The difficulty of word retrieving in speech is also difficult for reading out loud.

Sound out individual letters and letter combinations. “s” would be the ssssssss sound.

Combination sounds would include “th” “sh” “ch” “st” “bl” “ph” “br” etc. This requires many practice sessions between the survivor and an aid. Many words can be read correctly by sounding out the letters and then blending the sounds to make a word. In other words, learning to sound out the first letter can help in reading the entire word. Once you learn to sound out the first letter or combination, the letters can blend into words.

Some survivors are able to pronounce words that are spelled out to them. Start out with simple words such as c-a-r  or  h-a-t. Then move on to longer words such as a-n-i-m-a-l. Then move on to sentences such as  l-o-o-k   a-t   t-h-e   a-n-i-m-a-l.



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The Stroke Network, Inc.

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