The problem of aphasia in the assessment of consciousness in brain-damaged patients

Prog Brain Res. 2009;177:49-61. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(09)17705-1.


The assessment of the level and content of consciousness in brain-damaged patients relies to a large extent on behavioral assessment techniques. The limited behavioral repertoire displayed by vegetative and minimally conscious states requires the use of highly sensitive and reliable behavioral assessment methods, allowing the detection of subtle changes in behavior and associated level of consciousness. This situation is further complicated when patients with such disorders of consciousness have underlying deficits in the domain of communication functions, such as aphasia. The present paper examines the consequences of receptive and/or productive aphasia on the already limited behavioral repertoire presented in these patients and discusses a number of behavioral and neuroimaging assessment procedures designed to: (1) detect the presence of aphasia in patients with disorders of consciousness, and (2) reliably assess the level of consciousness of brain-damaged patients while taking into account the existence of receptive and/or expressive language deficits. The combined use of behavioral and neuroimaging assessment techniques appears to be particularly promising for disentangling impaired consciousness and aphasia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aphasia / diagnosis*
  • Aphasia / etiology*
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis
  • Consciousness Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Consciousness Disorders / etiology*
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychological Tests