When actor Bruce Willis was diagnosed with aphasia in March 2022, the announcement had some people asking: What is aphasia? In fact, according to the National Aphasia Association, nearly 85% of people have never heard the term “aphasia.”
Media outlets explained that the actor had trouble remembering his lines and even sometimes where he was.
Although it is a lesser-known disorder, aphasia affects at least 2 million Americans annually. It’s a frustrating condition that often evokes sadness and even hopelessness in those who have the condition and their families. Edwin Tasch, MD, chief of neurology for Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, explains the complexities of the condition and what families can do if they are experiencing this.
Aphasia is a disorder of language and how the brain processes and produces it. There are multiple types, the 2 most common are:
Yes. Although most common in people 50 or older, the spectrum is wide-ranging from 5 years old to 90. Expressive aphasia, for instance, can cause speech impediments in children when the language centers of the brain are slower to develop.
The primary cause of aphasia is stroke. One-third of all strokes result in the language disorder. It can also be caused from a head injury or brain tumor or infection.
Another type of aphasia, known as Primary Progressive Aphasia, is caused by a neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease. PPA results from the deterioration of brain tissues vital for speech and language. Other symptoms of PPA may be memory loss.
In some people, aphasia can be very mild, making it difficult for family members and even physicians to notice. In other cases, it can be severe, affecting a person’s ability to speak clearly, write, read, and listen. All who suffer from aphasia, however, have difficulty communicating.
Common symptoms include:
For some, aphasia can come on slowly, while for people who have suffered a stroke, for example, the symptoms are sudden.
Aphasia is treated in various ways. For some people, the condition can improve, but for others it’s progressive.
A speech-language pathologist can help people relearn lost skills or learn new ways to communicate, such as using gestures or drawing.
Since people diagnosed with aphasia are often not cognitively impaired, being unable to communicate thoughts and feelings is emotionally very difficult. Mental health therapy is recommended to cope with the side effects such as depression.
Be patient. Give them time and space to communicate however they can.
Implementing the tools recommended by a physician or therapist can help everyone involved find strategies for better communication, emotional coping, and bonding.