What you should know about Bruce Willis’ aphasia diagnosis

What you should know about Bruce Willis’ aphasia diagnosis

Film and TV star Bruce Willis will be stepping away from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia, according to his family.

“Aphasia is a condition in which people have a disturbance in or lose the ability to produce or understand language, so it is a disorder of communication that can have many causes, although we do not know the cause of Mr. Willis’ aphasia,” said Dr. Darren Gitelman, director of cognitive disorders, Advocate Medical Group and senior medical director, Advocate Memory Center.

Aphasia is caused by disorders that affect the language regions of the brain, which are typically located in the brain’s left hemisphere. Some causes of aphasia include:

  • Stroke
  • Trauma to the brain
  • Tumors
  • Infections of the brain
  • Degenerative conditions of the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia

The condition of aphasia from all causes is seen in about 1 out of every 250 people in the United States, but when it is more specifically due to a dementing condition the number is about 1 in 20,000, according to Dr. Gitelman.

There are no cures for aphasia, but when it is due to strokes, for example, there may be quite good recovery over time in some patients, according to Dr. Gitelman. Unfortunately, when due to a degenerative brain condition, the disorder is most likely to progress, with eventual involvement of other areas of cognition such as attention, executive functions, visuospatial functions and memory.

The long-term outlook depends on the underlying condition, and can vary widely, Dr. Gitelman said.

“In some, the disease may take many years to progress, while in others the progression is more rapid. We don’t really know how a person will do until we follow the individual over time,” Dr. Gitelman said.

Treatment usually involves speech therapy. There may also be treatments for the underlying conditions. For example, in stroke, the treatment would be medications to reduce the risk of future stroke, while in Alzheimer’s disease, the medications may slightly improve the language deficit or other cognitive symptoms.

Want to learn more about your risk for stroke? Take a free online quiz here. 

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  1. Dr. Gitelman provided an excellent description of aphasia, potential causes, treatment and prognosis for recovery based on the medical etiology. As a speech/language pathologist, I really appreciate his sharing of this information to educate others and encourage them to seek help for themselves or a loved one if they are experiencing aphasia symptoms. Thank you.

  2. I have auditory aphasia due to removal of a brain tumor in my left cerebellum in 1977. I does make life difficult.

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About the Author

Brittany Lewis
Brittany Lewis

Brittany Lewis is a media relations coordinator at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She previously worked as a reporter at TV stations around the Midwest, including Milwaukee. She studied at DePaul University where she majored in Journalism and Public Relations. Brittany enjoys traveling, hanging out by Lake Michigan, trying new restaurants and spending time with friends and family.