Actor Bruce Willis, 67, “retires” from his film and television career after being diagnosed with aphasia, his family announced on March 30, 2022.
In a message posted to Instagram, his daughter Rumer Willis said the condition “is affecting his cognitive abilities.”
Swathi Kiran, director of the Aphasia Research Laboratory at Boston University, explains what aphasia is and how it affects people’s communication.
What is aphasia?
Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects a person’s ability to speak or understand language. It also affects how they understand written words and how they can read and write.
It is important to note that aphasia can take different forms. Some people with aphasia just have trouble understanding speech — a result of damage to the temporal lobe, which controls how the brain processes sound and language. Others just have trouble speaking — suggesting damage to the frontal lobe. A loss of both speech and language comprehension would indicate damage to both the large temporal lobe and the frontal lobe.
Almost everyone with aphasia has trouble trying to find the names of things they know but can’t find the name. And because of this, they have difficulty using words in sentences. It also affects the ability to read and write of those affected.
What Causes Aphasia?
In most cases, aphasia results from a stroke or bleeding in the brain. It can also be caused by damage to the brain from impact injuries like a car accident. Brain tumors can also lead to aphasia.
There is also a separate form of the condition called primary progressive aphasia. This starts with mild symptoms but gets worse over time. The medical community does not know what causes primary progressive aphasia. We know that it affects the same brain regions as in cases where aphasia results from a stroke or hemorrhage, but the onset of symptoms follows a different course.
How many people are affected?
Unfortunately, aphasia is quite common. About a third of all stroke survivors suffer from it. In the US, about 2 million people suffer from aphasia and about 225,000 Americans are diagnosed each year. At the moment we do not know what proportion of people with aphasia have the primary progressive form of the disease.
There is no gender difference in who suffers from aphasia. But people with a higher risk of stroke — that is, those with cardiovascular disabilities and diabetes — are at greater risk. It also means that minority groups are more at risk simply because of the existing health disparities in the US.
Aphasia can occur at any age. It is usually found in people over the age of 65 simply because they are at a higher risk of stroke. But young people and even babies can develop the disease.
How is it diagnosed?
When people have aphasia after a stroke or bleeding, the diagnosis is made by a neurologist. In these cases, patients have shown a sudden onset of the disorder – their ability to speak or communicate will decrease sharply.
Diagnosis is more difficult in primary progressive aphasia. Unlike stroke, the onset is very mild at first – people slowly forget the names of people or objects. Similarly, the difficulty of understanding what people are saying will gradually increase. But it is these changes that trigger the diagnosis.
What is the prognosis for both forms of aphasia?
People with aphasia from a stroke or bleeding will recover over time. How fast and how severe depends on the extent of the brain damage and the therapy.
Primary progressive aphasia is degenerative – the patient’s condition worsens over time, although the rate of deterioration can be slowed.
Are there treatments?
The encouraging thing is that aphasia is treatable. In the non-progressive form, consistent therapy restores speech and understanding. One-to-one repetition exercises can help sufferers regain speech. But the road can be long and depends on the extent of brain damage.
In primary progressive aphasia, symptoms of speech and speech loss become worse over time.
But the clinical evidence is clear: rehabilitation can help stroke survivors regain speech and language comprehension, and may slow symptoms in cases of primary progressive aphasia.
Clinical trials of certain types of drugs are ongoing but still in the early stages. There seems to be no magic bullet. But at the moment, speech rehabilitation therapy is the most common treatment.
Swathi Kiran is Professor of Neurorehabilitation at Boston University
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/im-an-aphasia-expert-this-is-what-you-need-to-know-about-bruce-willis-condition-41518702.html I’m an aphasia expert. Here’s what you need to know about Bruce Willis’ condition