What is aphasia, which Bruce Willis suffers from?

The announcement of the end of the career of actor Bruce Willis, who suffers from aphasia, has shone the spotlight on this language disorder that is little known to the general public, although it affects many people.

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a language disorder caused by brain damage. They most often result from a sudden event, such as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), or head trauma. Corn “there are other possibilities, such as a degenerative disease”, for example Alzheimer, then causing progressive damage, explained to AFP Brenda Rapp, of Johns Hopkins University. Bruce Willis’ family did not detail the cause of his aphasia.

“Aphasia simply means that someone has a language problem that they weren’t born with”, summarized Hugo Botha, neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The ability to speak, understand others, read and write is then affected. About two million Americans have aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association, more than Parkinson’s disease.

What are the different shapes?

Scientists distinguish several forms of aphasia, depending on the part of the brain affected. In expressive aphasia, “generally people understand quite well but have trouble finding the words”says Brooke Hatfield of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). A person will then use very short sentences – like “wants food” -, to be understood.

In receptive aphasia, “Words come easily, but they are not necessarily the right ones. And it’s complicated for these people to hear what they’re saying.” and therefore to be aware of their mistakes, explains Ms. Hatfield.

Finally, global aphasia causes very great difficulties both in speech and in understanding.

How to cope?

After a stroke, part of the ability to communicate can return quickly during the first months. But often, difficulties remain beyond that. Language re-education therapies can allow further recovery. Some learn how to work around a missing word, for example.

The entourage is also encouraged to be patient, to use simple sentences, to minimize ambient noise, to stimulate the person by including him in conversations, and above all not to stigmatize him. Aphasia is not a problem of intelligence or mental retardation, experts point out. People with aphasia are always in possession of their knowledge and ideas. It is therefore counterproductive to address them as children.


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