Receptive aphasia

You hear someone talking or you read a piece of text, but you don't understand what it means.

You want to tell someone what happened yesterday, but the other person doesn't understand what you say at all.


With receptive aphasia there is a problem with understanding language. This applies to both writing and speaking language.

People can often still speak in fluent sentences. However, these sentences often do not have good content or meaning.
Receptive aphasia is sometimes also called sensory aphasia, fluent aphasia or Wernicke's aphasia, after the brain area involved.
NB: after a stroke, receptive and expressive aphasia often occur in combination (mixed aphasia).


Daily problems

Receptive aphasia manifests itself in many different ways and manifests itself differently for everyone. Below are a number of daily problems that MAY be experienced with receptive aphasia.

  • Difficulty understanding what others say
  • Difficulty understanding written words
  • Misinterpreting words, gestures or pictures
  • Giving wrong answers to questions
  • The use of made up words
  • Frustration because the other person does not understand what you are saying
  • Not being aware of one's own problems with understanding language or language errors
  • Difficulty repeating sentences.


Brain areas involved in receptive aphasia

Receptive aphasia is often thought to involve damage to 'Wernicke's area' (see picture below). This is an area that is located on the left side of the brain in the temporal lobe in most people

         Wernicke's area


Tips for receptive aphasia

  • (for family and friends) make sure you keep conversations simple (without using childish language). For example, use short sentences with one question per sentence ("Are you going for a walk?" instead of "Shall we go for a walk and then have coffee with Piet?")
  • (for family and friends) try using visual aids or gestures to convey what you mean.
  • (for family and friends) write down key words while you talk
  • (for family and friends) give the person with aphasia time
  • (for family and friends) make eye contact
  • (for family and friends) use your own voice in the same way
  • (for family and friends) continue to engage the person with aphasia in daily events and conversations