Primary Progressive Aphasia: Symptoms, Types, Treatment and Prognosis

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Primary progressive aphasia, or PPA, is a type of frontotemporal dementia that affects speech and language—thus, the word "aphasia" which refers to difficulty with expressive and/or receptive communication. The neurological syndrome causes people to slowly lose their ability to read, write, speak, and understand language.

Unlike Alzheimer's disease (AD), other cognitive functions tend to remain intact in early PPA. PPA is not the same as AD, although AD is thought to cause PPA in 30% to 40% of cases.

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Symptoms of PPA

Initial symptoms of PPA include difficulty recalling a specific word, substituting a closely related word, such as "take" for "tack," and comprehension problems. People with PPA can often perform intricate tasks but have difficulty with speech or language. For example, they may be able to build a complicated house but not be able to express themselves well verbally or understand what others are trying to communicate to them.

As the disease progresses, speaking and understanding written or spoken words become more difficult, and many people with PPA eventually become mute. On average, a few years after these initial symptoms involving language appear, PPA begins to affect memory and other cognitive functions, as well as behavior.

Who Gets PPA?

PPA is classified as a rare disease, however, many may be undiagnosed since they might not seek medical help or be misdiagnosed due to the unfamiliarity with PPA.

Interestingly, about twice as many men than women develop PPA. The average age of onset is between 50 and 70. Those who get PPA are more likely to have a relative with some type of neurological problem.

Causes of PPA

PPA happens when tissues in the frontal, parietal, and temporal regions (lobes) of the brain gradually deteriorate over time, usually on the left side of the brain. This is where several speech, language, and memory "control centers" are located.

Some cases of PPA have a genetic component found in a mutation of the GRN gene.

Categories of PPA

PPA can be subdivided into three categories:

  • Semantic PPA: Individuals lose the ability to say certain words, and their ability to recognize other words may decline.
  • Nonfluent/Agrammatic PPA: Individuals have difficulty forming complete sentences. For example, they may be able to speak using nouns and verbs, but not be able to connect them with words like "to" and "from." As agrammatic PPA progresses, individuals may struggle with forming any words and may have trouble with swallowing and muscle control.
  • Logopenic PPA: Individuals may experience difficulty locating the correct words to speak but retain the ability to understand what others are saying to them.


There is no drug specifically approved to treat PPA. Management of the disease includes attempting to compensate for the language difficulties by using computers or iPads, as well as a communication notebook, gestures, and drawing. Cards pre-printed with certain phrases or words may also be helpful in allowing the person to express himself. Other approaches involve training on word retrieval by a speech therapist.

Additionally, some research that involved providing language activities, communication techniques, counseling and education to persons living with PPA and their spouses demonstrated a significant improvement in communication and coping at its completion.

Prognosis and Life Expectancy

While some people with PPA are able to continue working for quite some time, others find that they are unable to perform at their job, especially if their work requires a higher level of communication and collaboration with others.

As with other frontotemporal dementias, the long-term prognosis is limited. The typical life expectancy from onset of the disease is 3 to 12 years. Often, complications from PPA, such as swallowing difficulties, often lead to the eventual decline.

A Word From Verywell

We at Verywell understand that primary progressive aphasia can be a difficult diagnosis to receive, both as an individual and as a family member of someone with PPA. Most people benefit from connecting with others in similar situations as they cope with the challenges that develop from PPA. One resource available nationwide is the Association for Frontotemporal Dementia. They offer several local support groups, as well as online information and phone support.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Mesulam MM, Rogalski EJ, Wieneke C, et al. Primary progressive aphasia and the evolving neurology of the language network. Nat Rev Neurol. 2014;10(10):554-569. doi:10.1038/nrneurol.2014.159

  5. Matías-Guiu JA, García-Ramos R. Primary progressive aphasia: from syndrome to disease. Neurologia. 2013;28(6):366-374. doi:10.1016/j.nrl.2012.04.003

  6. Henry ML, Hubbard HI, Grasso SM, et al. Treatment for word retrieval in semantic and logopenic variants of primary progressive aphasia: immediate and long-term outcomes. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2019;62(8):2723-2749. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-18-0144

  7. Tee BL, Gorno-Tempini ML. Primary progressive aphasia: a model for neurodegenerative disease. Curr Opin Neurol. 2019;32(2):255-265. doi:10.1097/WCO.0000000000000673

  8. Jokel R, Meltzer J, D.R. J et al. Group intervention for individuals with primary progressive aphasia and their spouses: Who comes firstJ Commun Disord. 2017;66:51-64. doi:10.1016/j.jcomdis.2017.04.002

  9. National Institutes for Health. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Primary Progressive Aphasia: prognosis.

  10. Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. Find support near you.

Additional Reading
  • National Aphasia Association. Diagnosing Primary Progressive Aphasia. Diagnosing Primary Progressive Aphasia

  • National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Pub Med Health. Pick’s Disease.

  • National Institutes of Health. Office of Rare Diseases Research. Primary Progressive Aphasia.

  • Northwestern University. Feinberg School of Medicine. Primary Progressive Aphasia.

  • University of California, San Francisco. Forms of Frontotemporal Dementia.

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.