What is aphasia? Here’s what you need to know | the health

The news that movie star Bruce Willis has retired from acting due to aphasia has shed light on a poorly understood communication disorder.

Here’s what you should know.

What is aphasia?

“Aphasia just means that someone has a language problem they weren’t born with,” explained Hugo Botha, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

The most common cause is a stroke or head injury – and experts stress that while it can affect the production and understanding of both speech and written words, it usually doesn’t affect intelligence.

Also Read: Bruce Willis Will Retire From Acting Due To Illness: Family

It affects about two million Americans, according to the National Aphasia Association, making it more common than Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy.

A 2016 survey by the same group found that less than nine percent of people know what it is.

While it’s usually caused by a specific one-time event such as a stroke, “there are other possibilities, such as from neurodegenerative disease,” explains Brenda Rapp, a cognitive scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

In such cases, the damage is progressive and treatment focuses on preventing further loss of function.

Willis’ family did not share the reason for his diagnosis in their statement.

What are the different shapes? –

Raab said the brain system that governs language is a “very complex machine” that involves choosing the right words, moving the mouth appropriately to express them, and at the other end listening and decoding their meaning.

Sometimes everyone struggles to find the right word, she added, “but you can imagine in aphasia, that happens a lot.”

Doctors sometimes divide aphasia into broad clinical categories related to where the brain injury occurred.

In the case of expressive aphasia, “people usually understand fairly well but have trouble getting words out,” says speech-language pathologist Brooke Hatfield, MD, of the American Audiology Association (ASHA).

A person with this type of aphasia may use simple sentences such as “I want food” to be understood.

In receptive aphasia, Hatfield added, “Words come easily, but they may not be the right words. It is difficult for this person to understand what they are hearing.”

speech therapy

The good news, Hatfield says, is that “everyone has a chance of getting better” in the long run.

“There are people who have had a stroke 30 years ago, who are still working with their language and communication and still making gains.”

The brain is so flexible, Rapp said, that speech therapy can engage other parts of it to “break through roadblocks” in damaged areas, and make new connections.

This therapy also trains people to talk about the topic if they comment on a particular word.

Family members can also develop strategies to understand themselves better: Things like short sentences, making sure you’re talking to the person in full view rather than in the other room, and reducing background noise, Botta said.

Some people do well with assistive devices because their ability to write is not affected in the same way.

On the horizon, Raab said, there are experimental treatments combining electrical brain stimulation with speech therapy that have shown promising results in restoring function.


All experts emphasized patience. Aphasia can be frustrating and isolating, Rapp said, because “our relationships with others depend so much on the ability to talk to them and connect with them,” causing the person or their caregivers to withdraw.

“It’s similar to a sudden awakening in a country whose language you don’t speak,” Hatfield said, but rather a change in basic cognitive abilities.

This story was published from the news agency feed without modifications to the text.


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