Aphasia explained following actor Bruce Willis’ diagnosis

On Wednesday, the family of Bruce Willis announced he was stepping away from acting after being...
On Wednesday, the family of Bruce Willis announced he was stepping away from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia.(Source: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 4:34 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - On Wednesday, the family of Bruce Willis announced he was stepping away from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia. The report came as a surprise to many.

The brain disorder is more common than Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, with aphasia affecting some two million Americans.

Aphasia is a devastating condition that steals a person’s ability to communicate, making it difficult to write or speak or even understand what others are saying.

The most common cause of aphasia is stroke. About 25 to 40 percent of stroke survivors acquire aphasia. It can also result from head injury, brain tumor or other neurological causes.

“If it’s a progressive form, the very earliest signs would be word finding difficulty,” Dr. Kerri Remmel, Director of the UofL Health Stroke Center said. “It’s not just ‘I can’t remember names of people.’ Because how many of you... raise your hand if you once in a while have a difficult time coming up with a name of a person. But, what we are talking about is start noticing difficulty with words they want to use or difficulty understanding complex language.”

There are different types of aphasia. While aphasia is most common among older people, it can occur in people of all ages.

Many people with aphasia also have weakness or paralysis of their right leg and right arm.

According to the National Aphasia Association, people who have aphasia can sometimes return to their jobs. Since most jobs require speech and language skills, aphasia can make some types of work difficult.

As far as recovery, if the symptoms of aphasia last longer than two or three months after a stroke, a complete recovery is unlikely.

However, it is important to note that some people continue to improve over a period of years and even decades. Improvement is a slow process that usually involves both helping the individual and family understand the nature of aphasia and learning other strategies for communicating.

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