What is aphasia and how can it be identified?

Bruce Willis retired from acting because he is suffering from aphasia.

bruce willis 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
bruce willis 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Bruce Willis's family announced last week that he would be retiring from acting due to his suffering from aphasia. The 67-year-old actor has had an illustrious acting career, starring in famous movies like the Die Hard series, The Sixth Sense and many more. 

In the past years, there have been reports that Willis has needed an earpiece to help him be reminded of his lines. It is now revealed that this is because of the disorder he suffers from.

What is aphasia and why does it prevent Willis from continuing his acting career?

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a disorder that results from damage to the parts of the brain that control language. The disorder is usually characterized by difficulty in speech and understanding and other activities that involve language like reading and writing.

People with aphasia may insert random words in sentences, be unable to find the words they are looking for or take a long time to formulate sentences.

Causes of aphasia

 Global aphasia most commonly occurs due to a large lesion that encompasses much of the left hemisphere, specifically the left perisylvian cortex. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Global aphasia most commonly occurs due to a large lesion that encompasses much of the left hemisphere, specifically the left perisylvian cortex. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Aphasia can occur when there is damage to the brain in an event such as a stroke or a head injury, but it can also develop gradually as a result of a brain tumor or neurological disease like Dementia. 

Most people who suffer from the disorder are older in age, but the causes listed above mean that younger people, and even children, can suffer from it.

Types of aphasia

There are two main types of aphasia, both of which have a number of subcategories.

The first is non-fluent aphasia, also know as Broca aphasia. People who suffer from this type will commonly omit short words like and or the and keep their sentences very short. Another symptom of this type is paralysis or weakness in the right side of the body.

The second type is fluent aphasia which is also known as Wernicke aphasia. People with this type will insert random words in their sentences without realizing they're doing it. They also have difficulty understanding others.

Global aphasia is when the two combine and patients suffer from the symptoms of both types.

What is aphasia vs. dysphasia?

Aphasia is the medical term for full loss of language, while dysphasia is a partial loss. These days, aphasia is used to refer to both.

Is aphasia temporary?

The treatment for aphasia and how long it remains with the patient depends on its cause. People who suffer from aphasia as a result of a brain injury sometimes experience improvement in the first few months. If it still remains, the patient would undergo speech therapy to help them recover.

Additionally, there are special therapies for people who suffer from aphasia to help them communicate as much as possible. One of the things that are meant to help is family involvement which includes participation in therapy, minimizing distractions, simplifying language and allowing the person the time to talk.