What is Aphasia, the disorder Hollywood star Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with?

Hollywood actor Bruce Willis is stepping away from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia. The news has brought focus to this poorly understood communication disorder.

Here’s what you should know.

What is Aphasia?


According to Mayo Clinic experts, a person diagnosed with Aphasia has a problem with language and communication. They aren’t born with this disease.

The most common cause of Aphasia is a brain stroke or a head injury and experts state that it can affect the production and comprehension of speech and written words, although it normally doesn’t impact one’s intelligence. 

It is ultimately a language disorder caused by damage to parts of the brain that control speech and understanding of language. Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, a person might have different levels of ability to speak and understand others.

Reports state that nearly 2 million Americans suffer from it, making it more common than Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy. Yet not many know about the disorder.

While it’s normally caused by a specific one-time event such as stroke, “there are other possibilities, such as from a neurodegenerative disease,” explains Brenda Rapp, a cognition scientist at Johns Hopkins University. In such scenarios, the damage is progressive. Therapy is done to prevent further degeneration. 

While Willis’ family announced that he would be retiring from acting due to his diagnosis, they did not specify what led to the disorder. 

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of aphasia vary from person to person.

People with Broca aphasia, sometimes called expressive aphasia, for example, may eliminate the words “and” and “the” from their language, and speak in short, but meaningful, sentences. 

In Broca asphasia the damage is in the front part of the brain, is also important for motor movements and those suffering from this type often have right-sided weakness or paralysis of the arm and leg.

Then there is Wernicke aphasia, sometimes called a receptive aphasia where people typically speak in long confusing sentences, add unnecessary words, or create new words. 

They usually have difficulty understanding the speech of others.

People with global aphasia have difficulties with speaking or comprehending language.

How is it treated

The treatment depends on your age and overall health and medical history. 

Treatment also depends on the following factors: 

The cause and extent of the disorder

Your handedness (left handed or right handed)

Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

The disease can typically be treated with: 

Speech-language therapy

Nonverbal communication therapies, such as computers or pictures

Group therapy for patients and their families

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