Bruce Willis’ family announced recently that the 67-year-old actor has been diagnosed with Aphasia. A brain disorder that leads to problems with speaking, reading and writing has sidelined the actor and drawn attention to a little-known condition that has many possible causes.
What causes Aphasia?
A stroke, tumor, head injury or other damage to the language centers of the brain can cause aphasia. A brain infection or Alzheimer’s disease can trigger it.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, wounded in a 2011 shooting, has aphasia from that injury.
The National Aphasia Association estimates 2 million Americans are affected and nearly 180,000 get the disorder every year. Willis’ family announced Wednesday that the 67-year-old actor has been diagnosed with Aphasia but did not provide any details on a possible cause.
For an actor, aphasia could pose a huge challenge depending on how severe it is, said Johns Hopkins University cognitive scientist Brenda Rapp, who works with people with the condition. “You can imagine how frustrating it is if you can’t find words, if you can’t organize words into sentences, if you can’t get your mouth to produce the sounds you want it to produce,” Rapp told AP. “You are still yourself… but you may not sound like yourself.”
For most, the cause is a stroke that has cut off blood to part of the brain. Without oxygen and nutrients, brain cells die, which leads to the difficulty retrieving words.
Aphasia does not affect intelligence. Some people improve dramatically in a few months. Others may need to find other ways to communicate. Speech and language therapy can help.
Researchers are looking into new types of speech therapy and noninvasive methods such as a procedure that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate brain cells.
The Die Hard actor’s family took to social media to confirm the news. Wills’ ex-wife Demi Moore also shared a post along with the actor’s photo with the announcement. She wrote, “To 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.”
The statement further read, “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.”
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