Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a neurological condition that causes you to lose language skills. It’s a type of dementia and may be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. At first, you may have trouble finding the correct words for objects or understanding others. Over time, many people with PPA lose all verbal or written communication skills.
Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to speak and communicate. Aphasia is a language disorder that results from damage to key parts of your brain that are responsible for understanding or producing speech and/or writing.
When the aphasia is from a brain disease that gets worse over time (progressive neurodegenerative disease), healthcare providers call it “primary progressive aphasia.” Initially, people may have trouble finding the right words to express themselves. The condition worsens over time, as people lose their ability to write, speak or understand language.
Most commonly, the underlying cause of PPA is a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia. In these conditions, the areas of your brain related to control of speech or understanding of words and their meaning break down.
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Experts divide PPA into three sub-types:
Primary progressive aphasia may affect anyone, but it’s more common in people with:
People usually develop PPA symptoms between ages 50 and 70. The condition may start as minor speech problems. Over time, people may struggle with judgment and thinking.
Primary progressive aphasia symptoms may include:
Primary progressive aphasia develops when the parts of your brain that control language start breaking down. Your brain tissue shrinks (atrophies), affecting your ability to communicate. Sometimes, this breakdown starts because of a gene mutation that you’re born with. Other times, it may happen for no known reason.
In most people, healthcare providers often can’t identify a clear predisposing risk factor. A combination of environmental and genetic factors could cause PPA. Even if you don’t have a gene mutation, PPA may still run in your family.
Your healthcare provider may suspect PPA based on your symptoms. They’ll evaluate your medical history and family history to see if you have an increased risk of primary progressive aphasia.
There isn’t a cure for primary progressive aphasia and no way to stop its progression. But some treatments may slow the disease’s progression or increase your quality of life.
People may benefit from:
There’s no guaranteed way of preventing primary progressive aphasia. Some lifestyle changes may reduce your risk of developing dementia, such as:
Primary progressive aphasia worsens over time. Many people with PPA eventually lose their language skills over many years, limiting their ability to communicate.
Most people who have the condition live up to 12 years after their initial diagnosis. Eventually, many people need daily support with their usual activities.
If you or a loved one has suspected or diagnosed primary progressive aphasia, you may also want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a gradual loss of language skills. It’s a sign of an underlying neurodegenerative disease. In some people, PPA is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease, while in others, it’s related to frontotemporal dementia. Experts don’t always know what causes this condition, but it’s often a combination of environmental and genetic factors. There isn’t a way to reverse primary progressive aphasia, but treatment may help you maintain communication skills for as long as possible. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best treatment for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/12/2022.
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