The world learned on Wednesday that Hollywood legend Bruce Willis, 67, is retiring due to being diagnosed with aphasia, a potentially devastating condition that results in a person losing communication skills.
The Willis family announced that the condition would result in the Die Hard star “removing from a career that meant so much to him”.
About 1 million Americans have the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health, and about 180,000 people are diagnosed with it each year.
It can appear in many ways, most often as a result of a head injury, stroke, tumor or other deterioration of the brain.
Aphasia can also be devastating, with experts saying it causes depression in more than a third of cases, can lead to personality changes and can alienate friends and family from the affected person.
Other famous examples of aphasia include former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke.
Imagine that you have fallen into a country whose language you do not speak – you cannot understand, read, write or speak. ‘It’s going to affect all of your interactions — that’s what it’s like to have aphasia,’ Darlene Williamson, president of the Aphasia Association, told DailyMail.com.
While it is impossible to tell Willis in particular how the condition has affected him and his behavior in a significant way, Williamson stated that it can often be devastating to patients.
“The consequences of living with language impairment can alter a person’s behavior and outlook on life,” Williamson said.
Approximately 35 percent of individuals with aphasia experience some depression.
The cause of this condition, which is often some type of traumatic brain injury or stroke, can lead to massive personality shifts.
“[Aphasia is] Difficulty with language caused by brain injury. The most common source is a stroke…but it can come from any other type of damage.”
Some infections that affect the language centers of the brain can also cause aphasia, along with cognitive decline and dementia-related decline.
The condition can make it so difficult for an actor like Willis to continue in his career that just the act of speaking outside the lines can become a challenge.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Williamson said of trying to keep working while he had the condition.
Aphasia affects language comprehension, speaking, reading and writing. There are varying levels of severity which would be another limiting factor. It may not be impossible, but acting requires additional facilities.
Dr. Raab said that despite the communication failure caused by the condition, people with the condition still have the same thoughts, and are the same internally. While the experience can be repulsive, loved ones should remember that the person has not changed. Pictured: Willis with family and friends after a ‘roast’ event in 2018
There are four common types of aphasia that make up the vast majority of cases: fluent – often called Wernicke; unflavored – known as broca; anomaly. and primary progressive aphasia.
Raab explained that there are different forms of the condition because each represents a different type of breakdown in the communication process.
Whether it’s the ability to translate thoughts into appropriate words, the ability to physically pronounce words, or the ability to interpret and understand speech from others, every part of communication is a complex process, and even minor brain damage can cause a problem.
While the condition causes communication failure, Rapp notes that the person himself remains the same.
Their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings remain for loved ones, even if it can be frustrating and disgusting for both the aphasia patient and those around them to deal with the condition.
The Willis family has not revealed what type he’s facing, how severe the condition is, or what is the root cause of the condition.
according to Stroke Association, A UK-based group, those with Wernicke’s aphasia have the ability to put long sentences of words together, but often say things in a meaningless way, or even use made-up words.
They will also have impaired ability to read and write, and may have difficulty understanding clear verbal communication towards them.
One example Rapp uses is that a person might misunderstand the sentence “John kicked the dog.”
Dr. Brenda Raab, a cognitive scientist at Johns Hopkins University, explains that aphasia is often caused by a stroke, and it can manifest in many different ways.
While the average person would clearly understand who kicked who in this scenario, someone dealing with this type of situation might have a hard time telling if John or the dog was the one who kicked.
Broca’s aphasia often causes a person to forget words or put an appropriate series of words together even when their brain can fully understand what they want to say.
A person with this type of condition often uses simple, short sentences to communicate because they are sometimes unable to say what they want correctly.
The Stroke Association says that these sentences will often be of about four words or less.
A person with Broca’s aphasia also struggles to write, but their ability to read is unaffected.
A person with aphasia may struggle to find specific verbs and nouns they need to make their point, and they speak very vaguely.
This may also translate to their writing, as they will not be able to create the correct words needed to say what they want to say.
Primary progressive aphasia destroys a person’s ability to communicate in almost every way.
A person with this version of the condition will have difficulty speaking, reading, and writing.
Their ability to process and understand someone speaking to them is also impaired.
Doctors can often detect aphasia with either an MRI or CT scan, and they will be able to pinpoint the exact part of the brain that is causing the problem.
There is no way to completely fix or cure the condition, but patients often undergo speech therapy to help rebuild their language skills.
Not much progress [with medication for the condition]Rapp said…The treatment for aphasia is speech therapy.
She noted that in some cases a person might undergo electrostimulation therapy along with speech therapy in order to “make the most out” of the experience.
“Strong family support is an important part of living successfully with aphasia,” Williamson said.
However, it is not always permanent, and how long it lasts and how severe it often depends on the extent of the damage to the brain.
Stroke sufferers in particular with aphasia can regain their speech, often in just a few weeks.
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