Small, S. L. (1994). Pharmacotherapy of Aphasia: A Critical Review. Stroke, 25(6), 1282-1289.


Background: Communication problems are a common sequela of cerebrovascular disease and other central nervous system disorders. Behavioral treatment of these disorders aims to harness uninjured parts of the brain to improve the communicative life of the individual. While pharmacotherapy has held promise for the treatment of aphasia for over fifty years, it has not fulfilled this promise. This paper reviews both the promise and the disappointment of aphasia pharmacotherapy.

Summary of Review: Diverse theories of the underlying neurological deficits in aphasia have led to different pharmacological rationales for therapy. Animal studies have demonstrated decreased levels of brain catecholamines following cortical stroke and more rapid stroke recovery with therapy aimed at augmenting brain norepinephrine and dopamine. These studies have led to recent attempts to hasten or extend language and sensorimotor rehabilitation following human stroke by administration of catecholaminergic drugs. When used as an adjunct to behavioral therapy, such pharmacotherapy appears to have benefit.

Conclusions: While drug therapy is unlikely to revolutionize the treatment of aphasia, it nonetheless holds promise as an adjunct to behavioral speech and language therapy to decrease performance variability and consequently to improve mean performance in patients with mild to moderate language dysfunction. Additional studies with carefully designed methods are necessary to assess the full potential of aphasia pharmacotherapy.