Speech pathologist argues that Donald Trump has aphasia


It is clear that when Donald Trump speaks extemporaneously, he goes off at weird tangents and finds it hard to sustain a coherent train of thought, meandering all over the place, laced with non-sequiturs. A retired speech pathologist says that when you analyze his speeches and compare them with the way he spoke long ago, that it is clear that he has a serious language disorder called aphasia.

A deficit in expressing and/or understanding language is called aphasia. The term is most often used in diagnosing people who were not born with the disorder, but who acquire it later in life. Aphasia can be caused by a head injury, a stroke or as a part of a more significant cognitive decline in older adults.

One aspect of aphasia impacts a person’s expressive language. This is the kind of language disorder that is more obvious to those who interact with the affected patient. The person struggles to say what they mean. They may have difficulties in expressing ideas logically and specifically They might be seen to be searching for the right word as they speak. Many aphasic people develop an overreliance on empty words and phrases. I have known patients who included a favorite phrase or two into nearly every sentence spoken, as the rote language makes it easier to get out a full thought.

Some aphasic people make up words when they can’t find the one they need. The new word might or might not sound similar to the one that is missing.

Many people with what we call “fluent aphasia” can string together a long series of words that seem to make sense until you realize that there isn’t much content there. There are lots of pronouns and adjectives, but not enough nouns to make the meaning clear.

She then goes on to analyze in detail some of Trump’s public utterances and arrives at this conclusion.

Whether or not Trump’s language disorder is progressive is difficult to say, but when I analyze his conversations from years ago, I believe that it is. His past interviews were far more coherent and much more linguistically sophisticated than what we hear now.

Whether or not the language disorder is developing as part of some type of dementia is up to a neurologist to diagnose.

I am not qualified to say whether or not Donald Trump has a personality disorder or a mental illness. But I am qualified to say that when I listen to him speak, I am increasingly convinced that he has significant aphasia.

This would not be the first time that the US has had a president with a serious impairment. There were suspicions that Ronald Reagan’s dementia began during his second term in office but that his staff managed to cover it up. But Reagan was reportedly easy-going in his personal interactions and thus more easily convinced to go along with his staff and family’s guidance.

With Trump we have an arrogant and egotistical person who would bridle and lash out at any attempts to tell him what to do.

Comments

  1. says

    I find this sort of thing infinitely annoying. Sure, it’s possible that Trump has aphasia, or dementia, or dysentery, but to perform diagnosis at this kind of remove is not science and not medicine, it’s pure unadulterated politics. There are endless other factors that could as well cause his changing speech patterns (not least: because by god the new speech patterns work great)

    On FtB, where ID and other pseudo-science is routinely and justly dragged over the coals, to see this sort of trash promoted is extremely weird.

  2. raven says

    (not least: because by god the new speech patterns work great)

    Oh really?

    Fox News commentator caught laughing on hot mic as Trump …

    Jan 29, 2020 -- Somewhere in the lengthy rant, Trump started talking about …
    Instead, he began to slur his words and tried to divert to another topic.

    It’s obvious that Trump now slurs his words, is often incoherent, produces a lot of word salads devoid of facts, and has little contact with reality.
    Anyone can tell by simply watching him on video or TV.

    I suppose this works great for some very strange value of “works great”.
    Like who knows, if you spend most of your time in bars full of very drunk people and think that is normal.

  3. says

    I am sorry, you are quite right. I was reading the wrong poll numbers. In fact, Trump’s approval rating has been trending steadily downwards, with a big negative spike when he was impeached, and it is clear now that he will be easily beaten in the upcoming election.

  4. Jean says

    Andrew Molitor,

    I don’t know if you have been in contact with someone who has declining cognitive abilities but I have. I knew about 5 years before she was diagnosed that something was wrong with my mother; she even had some tests (on my insistence) that did not then show anything being wrong. But then 5 years later she was ‘officially’ diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

    If I can see something wrong with my mother not because I am trained to see the telltale indicators of a cognitive issue but because I know the person, I am certain that a trained professional can see something in a public figure they don’t personally know. There is so much video available that it is possible to see some changes and someone who has seen hundreds or thousands of people affected by some syndrome could make some educated evaluation if not an actual diagnosis (which they usually don’t do and in this case she seems to be very careful about limiting the evaluation to aphasia and not some other cognitive issue).

    Is this simply a politcal discourse with no valid medical relevance? I don’t think so. The medical aspect can have some validity as I’ve mentioned above. I do think there is definitely some political component but it could simply be that the desire to not see (more of) a Trump disaster simply makes more people come forward with their opinion. It is hard for the average person to actually evaluate how credible such medical claims are but there has been quite a few and many seem to be more on the rational side rather than the sensationalistic side or the unadulterated political side. I do think it is valid to bring those to light and discuss them.

  5. raven says

    Joseph Goebbels Reich Minister of Propaganda in Germany from 1933 to 1945.

    If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

    Joseph Goebbels also had a communication style that worked great. One very similar to Donald Trump’s.

    The Nazis managed to take over the most advanced country in Europe and almost took over all of Europe.
    At the end though, it didn’t work all that well.
    As the Allies advanced, Goebbels killed his 6 children, killed his wife, and then killed himself.

  6. says

    At this point, raven, you are engaged in what I call the broken wing argument, in which you attempt to lure me away from my central point into an irrelevant rathole with some tempting thrashing about. I consider my parenthetical fully discussed, there is no reasonable way you can have misconstrued it at this point, and I decline to play further.

    My central point, that this is pseudo-science and that, on FtB, I would expect it to be denounced as such, or at least ignored, remains.

  7. raven says

    …and I decline to play further.

    So flounce away and who cares if you stick to it or not.

    My central point, that this is pseudo-science…

    No it isn’t pseudo science.
    You are making an assertion without any proof or data.
    That isn’t your central point either.

    You are a Trump supporter defending a guy whose is showing obvious signs of cognitive dysfunction.
    One who is a pathological liar.

    The Washington Post said in January 2020 that Trump had made more than 16,241 false or misleading claims as president,[1] an average of about 14.8 such statements per day.

    Doesn’t take much to be a hero to the right.
    A failing brain and endless lies are no problem.
    Trump isn’t popular because he is a great communicator.
    He is popular because he reflects the hates, fears, and racism of a large segment of the US population.

  8. file thirteen says

    Beware the dangers of wishful thinking. It doesn’t matter whether POTUS Chump has aphasia; he’s not gong to drop dead from it, and it’s not even going to make any difference as to whether or not he is reelected. The possible diagnosis of aphasia is a curiosity, nothing more.

    Also, Chump has been a prick for a long time, perhaps for all his adult life. I understand the desire to explain why Chump and a lot of his supporters are pricks, and I can see why finding a mental disorder to label him with could be satisfying, but it’s ultimately fruitless. We all loathe Chump. He’s what you call, in medical terminology, a prick.

    Off topic, I think I have aphasia myself.

  9. file thirteen says

    Off topic, I think I have aphasia myself

    Not true. I should have read the medical definition before I posted, not just the description above. My struggle to find words when speaking is liveable.

  10. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    …Many people with what we call “fluent aphasia” can string together a long series of words that seem to make sense until you realize that there isn’t much content there…

    That sentence is quite a literal description of the Text Generating AI called GPT-2[1], which has generated a fair amount of comment lately. You can play with it online[2]. Perhaps it should be called “Artificial Aphasia”.

    Anyway, I’ve often had the impression that Trump, when ad-libbing, is running pretty close to the edge of coherence. And I’ve wondered if at some point, say when he’s fatigued and under great pressure — as during a televised presidential debate? — he might flip out completely and descend into obvious, babbling incoherency. Another person, finding themselves in such a situation, might stop, claim to be ill, and leave the stage. Trump, however, would be likely to try to bull his way through and create a massive scene.

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenAI#GPT-2

    [2] https://talktotransformer.com/

  11. Roj Blake says

    @Andrew Molitor, this is not pseudoscience. Aphasia is not diagnosed in a lab with people in white coats testing vials of blood and gore, it is an observational diagnosis. There are enough videos and sound recordings of Trump to permit at least a preliminary diagnosis.

  12. John Morales says

    Andrew:

    My central point, that this is pseudo-science and that, on FtB, I would expect it to be denounced as such, or at least ignored, remains.

    No, it’s not. It’s a personal opinion from an expert, which is clearly stated to be such.

  13. billseymour says

    file thirteen @9

    … Chump has been a prick for a long time, perhaps for all his adult life.

    Probably longer than that. I seem to recall hearing that he would often kick over his brother’s blocks as a child. This presumably made him feel like a winner rather than the (moral) loser that he is.

  14. vucodlak says

    Once again, being a proudly ignorant boor with an ego the size of a planetary system is not a medical condition. The man is just stupid. He’s stupid, not because he’s incapable of learning, but because he has decided he’s the smartest human being to ever walk the Earth. Thanks to that attitude, no one can teach him anything, and he has no desire to learn.

    He’s always been an empty-headed fool but, until he was elected president, he was surrounded at all times be yes-men and bootlickers who’d agree with whatever said. Now, however, he’s in a position where he can scarcely avoid criticism, and he’s way, way over his head. What he says and does now actually matters, and not everyone is willing to kiss his ass. So he’s falling apart.

    Is it within the realm of possibility that he has coincidently developed some kind medical problem alongside his massive incompetence? Yes. Does it make the slightest bit of difference? No. Even if he were the picture of health, he’d still be grossly unfit for office. And even if he is sick, he’ll never be removed as long as Republicans can prop him up and stick a pen in his hand.

    His job requires him to say things publicly, and interact daily with people who have a lot more political savvy than he’s bothered to develop. Trump has never had anything intelligent to say and, unfortunately, it never became obvious until the world was forced to actually pay attention to him. For their part, the people who vote for him confuse stubborn ignorance with strength, so they don’t care that he never bothered to develop a vocabulary larger than that of a particularly dim grade school bully.

    That he seemed more coherent a few years ago means nothing. A few years ago, he wasn’t in one of the most stressful jobs in the world. That kind of stress wears heavily on much stronger people than Trump. Trump, having never worked hard a day in his, having never had to struggle or strive for anything, simply can’t hack it.

    Seriously, apply Occam’s razor here and consider which is more likely: That Trump has developed the staggering constellation of disorders with which armchair physicians have diagnosed him since he fell into the presidency, or that he’s just an egotistical fool in way over his head?

  15. Holms says

    #16
    Was aphasia presented in the manner of an expert giving an opinion, or as a formal diagnosis?

    That said, I don’t see much point in this sort of thing. Everyone knows he is shit at talking extemporaneously, and this person simply stated that Trump is shit at talking extemporaneously oh and by the way this is called aphasia.

  16. khms says

    #5 @raven

    Joseph Goebbels also had a communication style that worked great. One very similar to Donald Trump’s.

    He WHAT?!

    Goebbels was a dangerous enemy (“evil” if that is part of your vocabulary), but he was very obviously an intelligent guy. As far as I am aware, he never once gave a wandering, incoherent speech.
    His approach to truth may possible be similar to Trump’s, and possibly some of their political leanings (which I suspect can in both cases be summarized as “I want power, I don’t care how”), but everything else about the two seems to be very different, and I would certainly argue that that includes their style of communication.

  17. says

    Trump used to use language better; he appears to be damaged. Some of the characteristics of Broca’s aphasia (damage to a specific brain region associated with speech production) are repetitive misuse of incorrectly remembered words. I spent many hours talking with a history professor who had a stroke and was aphasic; she had certain phrases that would come up again and again, like an “um” in a non-damaged speech center. Trump shows a form of that, which I immediately noticed in 2016. He has gotten worse, but it could be a learned behavior. I am particularly interested by the way he has adopted the verbal sneer of a revival preacher; that is also new since 2016.

    Is it dementia or abuse of diet pills? We’ll know after all the bodies are buried. In the meantime, speculation is wasted; he just skated from impeachment in the face of solid evidence -- he can melt to a drooling village idiot and his party will support him.

  18. Sam N says

    @3 Andrew, I enjoyed that reply.

    @2 Raven, the ‘value’ in ‘works great’ from Andrew’s first comment was obviously related to his relative political success and lack of political consequences for his speech patterns. I didn’t see any reason to make assumptions about Andrew’s personal values (for example, whether or not that political success is a good thing).

    But, most importantly @1,
    Other posters have opined this is not pseudoscience. They are absolutely correct. A reasonable, and importantly, very testable, hypothesis was made by an expert on a subject using available observations. That’s straight up science. Is it speculative (in that making a hard diagnosis should involve better quality evidence under better controlled conditions)? Absolutely. But this differs drastically from ID, where proponents are provided with clear evidence undercutting any presently ‘testable’ positions they hold, and where they can always move their hypothesis into the realm of untestable. (Well God just made it ‘look’ exactly like what we would expect from evolution).

    I don’t see anyone claiming this is medicine.

    You’re clearly irritated by this speculation, which is fine, but I’d refine your explanation. Maybe you find it harmful to public perception of mental health. Maybe you detest the concept of using mental health as a political cudgel. I definitely was put off by diagnoses of personality disorders, which I viewed as value judgements masquerading as diagnoses.

    But aphasia? It explains how Trump could both be intelligent and still sound like a complete idiot. Of course there are other possibilities, but this isn’t just value judgment delivered in the guise of medicine. I view having aphasia as rather neutral (aside from some concern that it may presage other cognitive decline) in that it doesn’t carry implications of how I feel about that person. If Bernie Sanders developed aphasia and managed to nationalize healthcare, I wouldn’t be calling for his ouster.

  19. says

    I object to this kind of thing because it is poorly made propaganda. First, it is propagandist in nature, whether your think it’s sound “preliminary science” or just junk, it is at its root an attempt to portray Trump as “damaged goods” based on an appeal to authority, “I am a retired speech pathologist, what I say is true.”

    I am not opposed to propaganda, and think the left needs to get much better at it. Which leads to the second issue:

    It is poorly made propaganda, in that it is designed to appeal to the already-decided. In simpler terms, it is click bait. It is not designed to shift the range of opinion our way, but rather to further divide opinion. Compare with Goebbels, who worked tirelessly to transform hatred of Jews in to more intense hatred, but also to transform mild concern into hatred, and neutrality into mild concern, and positivity into neutrality. Note that the changes are all going the same direction.

    There is always a spectrum of opinion. Propaganda can alter the distribution in a number of ways. It can for instance shift the whole thing bodily in one direction or another, but also it can spread the ends outwards. The latter is easy. Both sides do it a lot, but the right is way better at doing the first one than the left is, and this has been consistent for.. I dunno, at least 100 years?

    If instead of “Trump has aphasia/dementia/whatever” the mill was producing accessible think pieces of various styles and markets that promoted the idea that Trump speaks like an idiot because he doesn’t give a shit about anybody, because he’s in the pocket of Them, who by the way are against You, we’d have something. The values of “Them” and “You” can be completely variable, the narrative remains the same. Stay on message, keep banging that drum. Flood the zone with shit.

    That’s propaganda that works. At least potentially.

  20. khms says

    #22 @Andrew Molitor

    I object to this kind of thing because it is poorly made propaganda.

    Assumes facts not in evidence. (Or if you prefer, citation needed.)
    You’re imputing motives without any evidence. Now if you had said something like “this works like bad propaganda …”, that could be made into a reasonable argument. But you’re assuming that is intentional.
    I think there are many people who listen to Trump and think “this does not sound like a normal person -- is there an explanation?” And some of them will go “hey, I’ve heard people sound like that before! That was because X”, and offer their explanation for others.
    Assuming that this is a more-or-less organized strategy of “the left” is … unsupported at the very least.

  21. says

    OMG, this is not a PhD thesis, one does not “impute” in this context.

    It absolutely IS an organizing principle of the left. Virtually every leftist movement of any note has imploded due to divisive propagandist BS.

  22. John Morales says

    Andrew:

    Virtually every leftist movement of any note has imploded due to divisive propagandist BS.

    Now, now. Don’t sell yourself short on that — you are strong in the divisive propagandist BS, as you’ve just now demonstrated.

    (I do get you: experts should keep their opinions to themselves lest they be seen as authoritative, and only people like you should be able to opine about stuff)

  23. says

    This might provide a useful comparison:

    “History generally presents itself to the future in visual terms that signify the distance between the two points of time from its creation and its re-purposing and its re-examination. The fallacy in photographic terms of historical representation and its distribution of intent are intertwined between reason and audience over the passing of linear and political time. Time and the changes that govern its passing, in ideological order or other affect the way in which we unpack or re-evaluate the historical image.”

    These are the first three sentences of a “book review” found here: https://americansuburbx.com/2020/02/sam-contis-dorothea-lange-day-sleeper-then-as-now-and.html

    Reading these lines, and the review itself, one might reasonably conclude that the author, Brad, is not a native speaker of English, and/or has some deficit in his ability to use written language. Many of the sentences simply don’t mean anything, and everything is a muddled mess. But Brad is a native speaker of English, and is perfectly competent with language. He writes this way only some of the time. He is here signalling his Seriousness as a Critic, ironically by doing extremely poor criticism. His peers recognize and acknowledge his position as a Serious Art Critic, and often write in the same way. While his community is a *bit* bush league, he’s not just some lone lunatic, he hangs around with a lot of university professors, where this gibberish is a sort of language. A cant.

    Actual meaning on a sentence-by-sentence basis is beside the point, irrelevant. Nobody cares.

  24. DMC says

    I have no bias either way. I just can’t follow the President when he speaks. I try to understand what he is talking about. I get lost when listening. He seems to jump around topics when he addresses the Nation. He changes topics mid sentence. I also don’t like his sarcasm. I don’t care about party preference. I am an independent voter. I could put aside previous Presidents who were not so nice but at least I understood what the message was when they spoke. They spoke in full sentences using nouns, verbs and adjectives. Sentences had beginning, middle and end. I had faith that they had the countries best interest first. I understood that from the message. I hope we elect better qualified candidates in the future.

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