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What is aphasia? Meaning of Bruce Willis’s diagnosis, is it a form of dementia, symptoms and treatment

The family of US actor Bruce Willis announced the star is stepping back from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia

Bruce Willis will be stepping back from his successful acting career due to health issues, his family has announced.

The US actor, 67, has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, a condition which has affected his cognitive abilities.

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Bruce Willis is stepping back from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia (Photo: Getty Images)

His family said it has been a “really challenging time” after disclosing the news on social media and thanked fans for their “continued love, compassion and support”.

A statement posted by the actor’s former partner Demi Moore on Instagram, which was later shared by Willis, read: “To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities.

“As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.

“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.

“As Bruce always says, “Live it up” and together we plan to do just that.”

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a condition that is usually caused by damage to the left side of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension.

It leaves a person unable to communicate effectively with others, causing difficulty with their language or speech.

Willis’ family has confirmed that his aphasia had been “impacting his cognitive abilities”.

The NHS says aphasia can affect people of all ages but it is more common in people over the age of 65, when strokes and progressive neurological conditions are more likely.

The damage from aphasia can be brought on by several factors, such as a stroke, head injury, brain tumour, infection or dementia, but Willis’ family has not specified further details about his condition or what had caused it.

What are the symptoms?

Those who are diagnosed with aphasia often struggle with the four main ways people understand and use language. This includes:

  • reading
  • listening
  • speaking
  • typing or writing

Problems with speech are the most obvious and people with the condition may make mistakes with the words that they use, such as using the wrong sounds, choosing the wrong word, or putting words together incorrectly.

Symptoms can vary with some people just getting a few words mixed up, while others will struggle with all forms of communication.

Although aphasia affects a person’s ability to communicate, it does not affect their intelligence.

It can occur by itself or alongside other disorders, such as visual difficulties, mobility problems, limb weakness, and problems with memory or thinking skills.

There are different types of aphaia with the condition often being classified as “expressive” or “receptive”, depending on whether a person has difficulties with understanding or expressing language, or both.

A person with expressive aphasia will typically have difficulty communicating their thoughts, ideas and messages to others, meaning their speech, writing, gestures or drawing may be affected. They may also struggle with everyday tasks such as using the telephone, writing an email or speaking to family and friends.

Someone with receptive aphasia experiences difficulty understanding things that they hear or read, and may also find it hard to interpret gestures, drawings, numbers and pictures. This can impact activities including reading emails, managing finances, having conversations, listening to the radio, or following TV programmes.

Most people with the condition have some trouble with speaking and will also have a mix of problems with writing, reading and perhaps listening.

How is aphasia treated?

Speech and language therapy is the main type of treatment for people with aphasia, although in some cases the condition can improve on its own.

Therapy aims to help restore a person’s ability to communicate and to develop alternative ways of communicating if necessary.

Speech and language therapy may be carried out in individual sessions, in groups, or using computer programmes or apps.

The success of treatment differs from person to person, but more people make some degree of recovery, while others will recover fully. Factors affecting treatments will include an individual’s age, overall health, medical history and the severity of the condition.

The chances of recovery are poorer for people with aphasia resulting from a progressive neurological condition, due to ongoing injury to the brain. When aphasia is caused by a progressive condition, treatment focuses on making the most of what people can still do and developing other ways of communicating to prepare for a time when speaking will be more difficult.