Understanding Aphasia – The Case of Bruce Willis

In the days following Will Smith’s infamous “slap heard ‘around the world'” at the Academy Awards, it was easy to miss the news about a darker story affecting one of Hollywood’s best stars: Bruce Willis.

Late last month, a statement posted on Instagram by his wife, Emma Hemming Willis, ex-wife, Demi Moore, and their children read: “We wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has had some health issues recently” who was diagnosed with aphasia, which It affects his cognitive abilities. As a result of this and with a great deal of consideration, Bruce is walking away from a profession that meant so much to him.”

According to a report by Inside Edition, the 67-year-old action star “secretly struggled for years to continue making films while experiencing symptoms of aphasia.”

Bruce Willis starred with Sybil Shepherd in the 1985-89 TV drama

In the past four years, Willis has shot nearly two dozen low-budget films in what has been reported as an effort to make as much money as possible for his family before he became unable to do so.

The Inside Edition also notes that Willis’ memory decline has become a growing concern for his colleagues. On the set of a movie called White Elephant, he reportedly became very confused, asking the cast and crew, “I know why you’re here, but why am I here?”

Understanding aphasia

For many people, Willis’ ad is the first time they’ve heard the term “aphasia.”

But it’s actually a more common diagnosis than you think.

Neurologist Dr. Damon Salzman of Cleveland Clinic Weston.

The National Aphasia Society says the condition is “more common than Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy,” affecting an estimated 2 million Americans, with about 180,000 new cases diagnosed annually.

To better understand aphasia, we asked neurologist Dr. Damon Salzman, a dementia specialist at Cleveland Clinic Weston, for a quick primer on the condition.

What is aphasia and what causes it?

Aphasia is not a specific diagnosis, but rather a description of symptoms. This means that the affected person has difficulties in being able to understand language, produce language, or both.

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