Bruce Willis’ Aphasia

Bruce Willis’ Aphasia: A Look at This Condition With an Uncertain Cause. Bruce Willis’ Aphasia. Bruce Willis’ decision to step out of the spotlight this week after his diagnosis of aphasia is not surprising. It’s perhaps the worst medical condition for an actor.

The 67-year-old’s announcement did not contain details about his diagnosis, but Dr. Mark Alberts, co-physician-in-chief of the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute, said aphasia is a symptom of other conditions. Fully understanding Willis’ future depends on the cause.

Bruce Willis’ Aphasia: A Look at This Condition With an Uncertain Cause

“It usually is not by itself. It’s a symptom of another disease process,” Dr. Alberts said.

Aphasia, according to Sylvia Fisher, speech-language pathology program manager with the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network, is a language disorder that hinders a person’s ability to communicate, making it difficult to speak, write, read and understand what others are saying. It does not affect the individual’s intelligence, but rather their ability to recognize, make meaning of and use words and sentences to effectively communicate.Bruce Willis’ Aphasia

Bruce Willis’ Aphasia: A Look at This Condition With an Uncertain Cause

The condition affects more than 2 million Americans and occurs when there is damage to the language centers of the brain, Fisher explained. This damage can result from:

  • Stroke, the most frequent cause.
  • Traumatic brain injury.
  • Brain tumor or infection.
  • Degenerative conditions like dementia.
  • Migraines, seizures or transient ischemic attack (TIA) can cause temporary episodes of aphasia.

Legendary actor Bruce Willis announced Wednesday his departure from the big screen following his diagnosis with aphasia, which is “impacting his cognitive abilities,” his family said in a statement. Bruce Willis’ Aphasia.

While details of what led to Willis’ aphasia diagnosis are unknown at this time, medical experts stress the importance of the brain condition and how its specifically treated — depending on its severity. Bruce Willis’ Aphasia.

“[At some point], people will know somebody who’s had a stroke and has aphasia,” Dr. Swathi Kiran, professor of neurorehabilitation at Boston University, told NPR.

Bruce Willis stepping away from acting for health reasons, his family says

Aphasia is defined as a condition that affects the ability to speak, write and understand language, according to the Mayo Clinic. The brain disorder can occur after strokes or head injuries — and can even lead in some cases to dementia.

“As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him,” his daughter, Rumer Willis, said on Instagram. “This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support.”

It impacts the way a person can communicate

Medical experts say the impacts of aphasia can vary, depending on the person’s diagnosis. But mainly, the condition affects a person’s ability to communicate — whether it’s written, spoken or both.

People living with aphasia can experience changes in their ability to communicate; as they may find difficulty finding words, using words out of order or will even speak in a short manner, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Bruce Willis’ Aphasia: A Look at This Condition With an Uncertain Cause

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Dr. Jonathon Lebovitz, a neurosurgeon specializing in the surgical treatment of brain and spine conditions at Nuvance Health, told NPR that a person’s condition depends on the exact portion of the brain that’s impacted.

“In most patients that have aphasia, it is a symptom of a larger medical issue,” said Lebovitz.

Aphasia diagnoses are more common than you think

According to the National Aphasia Association, the communication disorder affects roughly two million people in the U.S., as it’s more common than Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.

Nearly 180,000 people in the U.S. acquire the condition each year. Most people living with aphasia are middle-aged or older, as the average age of those living with the condition is 70 years old. But anyone, including young children, can acquire it.

“Once you’re over the age of 60-65, there’s a higher chance of having a stroke and have aphasia (or being diagnosed with it),” said Kiran.

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The most common cause of aphasia in Americans is stroke — with roughly 25 to 40% of stroke survivors are acquiring it. Individuals can also acquire aphasia as a result of a head injury, brain tumor or a degenerative process.

“It really depends on the exact reason that one is having aphasia and that will determine the long-term outlook and even potentially some of the upfront treatments,” said Lebovitz.

Treatment for aphasia focuses on the symptoms

Fortunately, treatment options for aphasia are indeed possible.

Traditionally, most people undergo a form of speech and language therapy to restore their communicative skills. Kiran said this form of therapy is a big part of what medical experts can do to help someone recover.

“The road to rehabilitation or therapy can be long and hard, but it’s possible for people to improve,” she said.

Additionally, there are ongoing clinical trials that use brain stimulation and may help improve one’s ability to regain skills, Kiran says. However, no long-term research has been conducted yet.

“Most forms of aphasia come on suddenly, but it can also result from deterioration of brain tissue over time such as with dementia and, more specifically, primary progressive aphasia,” Fisher said.

In Willis’ case, Dr. Alberts noted there is no evidence the actor suffered a stroke or brain injury.

“I suspect it’s been gradually progressive over a number of months or maybe even years,” he said.

Aphasia due to stroke or injury can often improve as the patient’s brain makes new neural pathways and heals, Fisher said. Progressive aphasia will likely not show improvement, although patients can acquire new communication strategies through speech therapy, she said.

“Anyone experiencing this condition should contact their physician to obtain a referral to see a medical speech-language pathologist for a full assessment and treatment plan,” Fisher noted. “If the symptoms come on suddenly, it could be a sign of a stroke and the person should seek immediate medical attention.”

Symptoms of aphasia can vary in severity depending on the area of the brain affected and the extent of the damage. Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with expression and comprehension
  • Speaking or writing words or sentences that don’t make sense, substituting one word for another, or trouble finding the right words.
  • Speaking short, halted or incomplete sentences.
  • Difficulty following directions or conversations.
  • Requiring extra time to absorb and understand what is being said or what they are reading.

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