Language as a stressor in aphasia

Dalia Cahana-Amitay, Martin L. Albert, Sung Bom Pyun, Andrew Westwood, Theodore Jenkins, Sarah Wolford, Mallory Finley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Persons with aphasia often report feeling anxious when using language while communicating. While many patients, caregivers, clinicians, and researchers would agree that language might be a stressor for persons with aphasia, systematic empirical studies of stress and/or anxiety in aphasia remain scarce. Aim: The aim of this paper is to review the existing literature discussing language as a stressor in aphasia, identify key issues, highlight important gaps, and propose a programme for future study. In doing so we hope to underscore the importance of understanding aspects of the emotional aftermath of aphasia, which plays a critical role in the process of recovery and rehabilitation. Main Contribution: Post stroke emotional changes in persons with chronic aphasia clearly has adverse effects for language performance and prospects of recovery. However, the specific role anxiety might play in aphasia has yet to be determined. As a starting point, we propose to view language in aphasia as a stressor, linked to an emotional state we term "linguistic anxiety". Specifically, a person with linguistic anxiety is one in whom the deliberate, effortful production of language involves anticipation of an error, with the imminence of linguistic failure serving as the threat. Since anticipation is psychologically linked to anxiety and also plays an important role in the allostatic system, we suggest that examining physiologic stress responses in persons with aphasia when they are asked to perform a linguistic task would be a productive tool for assessing the potential relation of stress to "linguistic anxiety". Conclusions: Exploring the putative relationship between anxiety and language in aphasia, through the study of physiologic stress responses, could establish a platform for investigating language changes in the brain in other clinical populations, such as in individuals with Alzheimer's disease or persons with post-traumatic stress disorder, or even with healthy ageing persons, in whom "linguistic anxiety" might be at work when they have trouble finding words.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-614
Number of pages22
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2011 May


  • Anxiety
  • Aphasia
  • Language
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • LPN and LVN


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