This week, Bruce Willis’ shock retirement from acting shone a light on an illness that, until now, was little known to many.
Aphasia, the brain disorder that Willis suffers from, can affect a person’s basic day-to-day functioning. And while this might be the first time some have heared of the condition, it actually affects up to 140,000 Australians.
In Hollywood, Game of Thrones star Emelia Clarke has also suffered from aphasia after she had an aneurysm in 2011. Sharon Stone also had the illness when she suffered a stroke in 2001.
On Wednesday, Willis’s family released a statement on behalf of the Die Hard star, telling fans and followers: “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.”
His decision to step back is a huge loss for Hollywood—the works of Willis are revered by action film die hard fans (no pun intended) around the world.
But that said, aphasia is a difficult illness to navigate as an actor given its symptoms revolve around communication—making it difficult to act at any given time. Here, we look at what aphasia actually is.
What is aphasia?
Aphasia is a language disorder which is caused by damage in a specific area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension, per John Hopkins University.
It can heavily impact a person’s ability to effectively communicate with other people.
What causes aphasia?
Aphasia can be caused by brain trauma, whether that’s suffering from exterior physical impact, or an internal episode.
A stroke most commonly known to spark the onset of aphasia. Dementia, brain tumours and infections are also possible causes. Both men and women can be affected by aphasia equally.
It’s most common in people who are middle to old age—Willis is 67 years old.
What are the symptoms of aphasia?
The symptoms of aphasia can differ according to which specific type a person suffers. There are three types—Broca aphasia, Wernicke aphasia and global aphasia.
If a person suffers from broca aphasia, they may not say the words “and” and “the” in sentences, rather, they speak in very short phrases. They may also experience weakness in the right side of their body, or paralysis in their arm and leg.
If a person has wernicke aphasia, they might speak in long sentences that are confused. They may also use unnecessary words or even create new ones, and they have difficulty in understanding other people’s.
Global aphasia’s main symptom is experiencing difficulty in speaking or comprehending language.
Can you get better from aphasia?
Aphasia can be treated, and a full recovery is definitely possible, however many people who suffer from it will experience some ongoing effects.
Treatments include speech-language therapy and non-verbal therapy. Group therapy with family is also encouraged, with experts encouraging members to communicate with their loved one in simple sentences, using different types of gestures other than words (i.e. using hands or drawing) and by not correcting the speech of someone with aphasia.
More information can be found about aphasia, along with supportive material if you or a loved one is suffering from the condition, can be found here.