What Is Aphasia?


Understanding the brain disorder affecting Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis is taking a break from acting due to a brain disorder called aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities.

You may have never heard of aphasia, but the brain disorder is more common than Parkinson's Disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy  and affects some 2 million Americans. In fact, about 180,000 people are diagnosed each year.

Aphasia is a devastating condition that steals a person's ability to communicate, making it difficult to write or speak or even understand what others are saying.

People with aphasia can have problems finding words, use words out of order, speak in a choppy, halting manner or use short fragments of speech. They can even make up nonsense words and sprinkle those into their speech and writing.

Written communications can be full of grammatical errors and run-on sentences. A person with aphasia can also have problems with accurately copying letters and words.

Caused by damage to the language centers of the brain, aphasia is often the result of a traumatic brain injury, an infection or tumor in the brain, or a degenerative brain disease such as dementia.

A stroke is by far the biggest cause of the condition. Between 25% and 40% of stroke survivors acquire aphasia and the elderly at highest risk.

Treatment focuses on the person's symptoms. For those with milder forms of aphasia, treatment can be restorative, using speech therapy to retrain the brain to recognize words and speak and write.

For people with degenerative conditions, health professionals often focus on providing compensatory assistance in the form of pictures and large print formatting to help the person communicate.

A complete recovery from aphasia is unlikely if the symptoms last longer than two or three months after a stroke, but hastens to add that some people could continue to improve over a period of years and even decades.


LaMotte, Sandee. “Understanding the Brain Disorder Affecting Bruce Willis.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Mar. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/30/health/aphasia-explainer-wellness/index.html. 

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