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All you need to know about aphasia, the condition Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with

Actor Bruce Willis. Picture: Denis Poroy AP

Actor Bruce Willis. Picture: Denis Poroy AP

Published Mar 31, 2022

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Hollywood actor Bruce Willis has announced he is stepping away from acting as he battles aphasia, a neurological condition that affects the ability to communicate.

“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.

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“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,” the family statement read.

Fans and some of Hollywood’s biggest stars have shown support for the actor after his decision to retire due to a condition that causes difficulties with language or speech.

Aphasia has been shone a spotlight, here’s what you should know.

What is aphasia?

According to Mayo Clinic experts, a person diagnosed with aphasia has a problem with language and communication. They aren't born with this disease.

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The most common cause of aphasia is a brain stroke or a head injury and experts state that it can affect the production and comprehension of speech and written words, although it normally doesn't impact one's intelligence.

It is ultimately a language disorder caused by damage to parts of the brain that control speech and understanding of language. Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, a person might have different levels of ability to speak and understand others.

What causes aphasia?

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The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication explains that aphasia is caused by damage to one or more of the language areas of the brain. Most often, the cause of the brain injury is a stroke. A stroke occurs when a blood clot or a leaking or burst vessel cuts off blood flow to part of the brain. Brain cells die when they do not receive their normal supply of blood, which carries oxygen and important nutrients. Other causes of brain injury are severe blows to the head, brain tumours, gunshot wounds, brain infections, and progressive neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease.

How is aphasia diagnosed?

Aphasia is usually first recognised by the physician who treats the person for his or her brain injury. Most individuals will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan to confirm the presence of a brain injury and to identify its precise location. The physician also typically tests the person’s ability to understand and produce language, such as following commands, answering questions, naming objects, and carrying on a conversation, explains the institution.

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If the physician suspects aphasia, the patient is usually referred to a speech-language pathologist, who performs a comprehensive examination of the person’s communication abilities. The person’s ability to speak, express ideas, converse socially, understand language, and read and write are all assessed in detail.

Are there treatments for aphasia?

While there is no medical cure for aphasia, the main treatment consists of speech and language therapy, which entails relearning and practising language skills and other ways to communicate.

Most people make some degree of recovery – some people improve dramatically in a few months, but others may need to find other ways to communicate. The chance of recovery is poorer for people with aphasia resulting from a progressive neurological condition.

Researchers are looking into new types of speech therapy and non-invasive methods such as a procedure that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate brain cells.

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