Are you familiar with the medical condition Pure Alexia without Agraphia? Don’t worry if you’ve never heard about it before, or if you have no idea what it means. Few know the perils of that condition, so it can be a good thing you haven’t had to learn about it yet.
“Alexia” means you have lost the ability to read. It is a form of aphasia.
“Agraphia” means the inability to write or spell.
“Pure Alexia without Agraphia” means you can write and spell but not read what you just spelled and wrote. Quite fantastic — and scary! — eh?
“Pure Alexia without Agraphia” was discovered in 1892 and it is best described as a “linguistic blindfolding” — and a good friend of mine has been diagnosed with “Pure Alexia without Agraphia” after suffering several strokes and the condition can be shameful because so many of her friends and family think she’s faking her illness.
People with Pure Alexia without Agraphia can write a grocery list at home but are then unable to read that list of items in the store. Patients can write a letter to a friend, but they cannot proofread what they wrote because they cannot recognize the words they wrote on the page. Arguments quickly devolve between patient and the misunderstanding outsider who simply — but usually angrily — says, “What do you mean you can’t read it? YOU JUST WROTE IT!”
The patient’s speech and memory and hearing are all fine. They sometimes have trouble naming colors.
Upon first diagnosis with Pure Alexia without Agraphia, patients are unable to read. They are put back to square one as they learn again how to read letter by letter. They spell out words in minutes when it used to take them seconds.
Sufferers are unable to quickly read words, but they can understand words that are verbally spelled out for them. They can spell just fine. They just can’t understand what they just spelled.
Some patients can match words to corresponding images — but that ability is rare. Paralysis and sensory loss are not usually a part of Pure Alexia without Agraphia.
In 118 years since its discovery, we still don’t know what causes Pure Alexia without Agraphia. The medical community believes there is some sort of disconnect between the intact right visual cortex after a stroke and the left hemisphere language centers in the brain that creates the condition.
If you know someone who has Pure Alexia without Agraphia, I urge you to be patient with them and to believe them in all contexts — even when they say they cannot read what they just wrote — because they are dealing with the complex ramifications of an after-stroke healing and while they might still sing and dance and appear perfectly recovered in every way, they are ultimately dealing with an electrical disconnect in their brain that defies convention and frustrates their every moment.