What is aphasia? Bruce Willis's diagnosis explained

·Lifestyle & Features Editor
·5 min read

Bruce Willis's family has announced that the actor is "stepping away" from his successful acting career due to a medical condition that is impacting his "cognitive abilities."

In a statement to Instagram, Willis's family revealed that the 67-year-old actor has been "experiencing health issues" and was recently diagnosed with aphasia. While no further details were given, his family said that after "much consideration," the "Die Hard" actor will be focusing on his health rather than his career in Hollywood.

Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with aphasia and will be
Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with aphasia and will be "stepping back" from acting. (Image via Getty Images)

"This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support. We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him," the post read. "As Bruce always says, “Live it up” and together we plan to do just that."

The statement was signed by Willis's wife Emma Heming Willis, his ex-wife Demi Moore, and the star's five daughters, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel and Evelyn.

Willis and wife Emma Heming Willis have been married since 2009. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Film at Lincoln Center)
Willis and wife Emma Heming Willis have been married since 2009. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Film at Lincoln Center)

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage to areas of the brain that controls "language expression and comprehension" that can impact a person's ability to speak and form sentences, recall words and names, read and write.

Although Willis's family did not reveal details of his diagnosis, there are many different types of aphasia that range in severity and depend on the part of the brain that's damaged and how it presents itself.

What are the most common forms of aphasia, and what are the signs and symptoms?

The three most common forms of aphasia are Broca's Aphasia, Wernicke's Aaphasia and Global Aphasia.

Broca's Aphasia is caused by injury to the frontal regions of the left hemisphere of the brain that can cause a person to have difficulty forming complete sentences. It's considered a "non-fluent" form of aphasia and although it causes problems with how people express themselves, it usually preserves some level of comprehension.

Willis's family revealed the actor has been diagnosed with aphasia. From left: Rumer Willis, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Scout Willis, Emma Heming Willis and Tallulah Willis. (Image via Getty Images)
Willis's family revealed the actor has been diagnosed with aphasia. From left: Rumer Willis, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Scout Willis, Emma Heming Willis and Tallulah Willis. (Image via Getty Images)

People with Broca’s Aphasia may drop certain words in a sentence, like “is” or “the” so that their sentences are clipped or less than four words. It can be extremely frustrating for someone to communicate with Broca's Aphasia because they know what they want to say and understand what other people are saying — their vocabulary is just extremely limited.

Conversely, a person with Wernicke's Aphasia can string together long, fluent sentences that have no meaning. Often times, people with Wernicke's Aphasia are unaware that they've said things that don't make sense or made up words that can sound like gibberish.

Wernicke's Aphasia is caused by damage to the area of the brain that controls language. Not only does it impair how a person speaks, it also impairs how they comprehend what other people are saying, and impacts their ability to read and write.

Global aphasia is considered the most severe form aphasia brought on by damage to multiple language processing areas of the brain. It causes people to have little to no ability to produce or understand speech and leave them unable to read or write.

What causes aphasia?

Although we know aphasia is caused by damage to parts of the brain that control language, there are different ways that damage can be acquired. Damage can be caused by infection, head injury or brain tumours or may occur over time due to dementia. however, the most common cause of aphasia is from brain damage resulting from a stroke.

Aphasia is caused by damage to areas of the brain that control language and communication. (Image via Getty Images)
Aphasia is caused by damage to areas of the brain that control language and communication. (Image via Getty Images)

Loss of blood and oxygen can cause brain cells to become damaged or die. If this occurs in areas that impact language, aphasia occurs.

Can aphasia be treated?

Treatment for aphasia varies by case and is largely based on how the brain damage was acquired and its severity. While some people will see improvements in the months following a stroke or brain injury, others may not fully recover language and communication abilities.

One of the most common forms of treatments for aphasia is speech therapy, which can help restore language or help people with aphasia learn new ways to communicate effectively.

What can families do to support someone with aphasia?

Family involvement and cooperation is essential in treating aphasia. Since people impacted with aphasia can become extremely frustrated, it’s important for family members and caregivers to develop new methods of communication through gestures, pictures, “yes and no” questions and by using short, simple sentences.

Other ways to help a loved one with aphasia is to be sure to include them in conversations and allow them plenty of time to speak without correcting them.

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