The ability to communicate is something we often take for granted. When communication difficulties occur, they can make us feel frustrated, angry, embarrassed and isolated. Carers, family and friends, too, can find it confusing and frustrating, often reporting feeling helpless or even guilty.
Understanding communication difficulties and knowledge of coping strategies can help people affected by a brain tumour (and those around them) to feel more able to cope and so reduce these feelings.
It is important to realise that not everyone with a brain tumour will experience communication difficulties, or they may be so mild that they do not greatly affect daily life.
Whether and how a brain tumour affects your communication skills will depend largely on where it is in the brain. Each section or lobe of the brain (see diagram below) is responsible for different functions, some of which are involved in communication.
For example, the frontal lobe is involved in language production and the temporal lobe is involved in understanding language. As a result, if your tumour is in one of these lobes, pressure from the tumour itself, swelling around it or treatment directed at that area may have an effect on your communication skills.
The brain is also divided into two hemispheres - left and right. The side on which your tumour is located, as well as the lobe, can affect the type and likelihood of communication effects. If your tumour is located in the left hemisphere, you are more likely to experience language and speech difficulties, as this is where the language areas are generally found. (It is important to note that for some people, the language areas are found in the right hemisphere.)
Brain tumour surgery can also cause communication difficulties, if the area of the brain operated on is involved in communication. These effects may be temporary and reduce with recover, but some effects may be more permanent if that area is removed or damaged.
Learn more about brain tumours and the human brain.
There is a range of different communication difficulties that you may experience:
Read more about cognition difficulties.
Dysphasia is the most common communication difficulty experienced by people with brain tumours. Sometimes the term 'Aphasia' is used, which is complete loss of language. It is important to note that dysphasia does not affect intellect although, unfortunately, this a common misperception.
You may have difficulty producing language, which could involve:
In these instances, it is usually possible for other people to understand your speech, but it may take you some time to say what you want to say. With this type of dysphasia, you are usually aware that you have a communication difficulty.
You may have difficulty understanding language or producing meaningful language, which could involve:
In other words, you may have speech that sounds fluent, but it is made up of 'non–words'. As a result, other people may not be able to understand what you are trying to say.
In general, someone with this type of dysphasia will not be aware that they have a communication difficulty.
There are various types of dysphasia and the three most common types are: 'Broca's aphasia', 'Wernicke's aphasia' and 'Global aphasia'. More information about these types can be found in our fact sheet which can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.
The effects of dysphasia can be exceedingly frustrating as being able to communicate efficiently is important to many aspects of daily life. As a result you might feel emotionally 'cut off' from those around you, and your relationships may suffer.
If the effects are severe, you may feel extremely isolated, and depression is not uncommon in people affected by dysphasia. Carers, family & friends can feel lonely and isolated too. Read more about depression.
There are some simple changes you can make that may help communication problems.
If you are experiencing communication difficulties:
One key way others can help is by being supportive, and to adapt to the way they communicate in order to facilitate your understanding and self expression. Also, many carers have found that it is important not to do too much for their loved one just because it is easier, and to remember that the person with dysphasia is:
There are also many organisations that specialise in equipment, or other forms of support, for people with communication difficulties. These can be found in our full fact sheet.
Read more about caring for someone with a brain tumour.
If you have not been referred to a speech and language therapist (SLT), you can ask your health team to be referred.
The SLT will give you a variety of spoken and written tests to assess which sort of communication difficulties you are having and to what degree. These tests may include naming objects, engaging in conversation, telling a story/joke, or writing a shopping list.
They will use various tools and exercises to work with you towards:
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a brain tumour, we offer a range of support, including a phone line, private Facebook groups and information events. Find out more.
Find out more about Communication difficulties and brain tumours in our full fact sheet.
Find out more about Communication difficulties and brain tumours in our full fact sheet - Clear Print version, designed to RNIB guidelines.
If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)
Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00
You can also join our active online community on Facebook - find out more about our groups.