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What is Aphasia? Your Questions, Answered.

By Ricardo Mabanta, MD, neurologist, Virtua Neurosciences – Marlton 

Whether you're young or old, a Die Hard movie fan, or even a casual viewer – Bruce Willis is a generational talent. From John Mclane and Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction to becoming the epitome of plot twists at the end of The Sixth Sense – his memorable performances will go down in the ethos of cinema.

Last week, Bruce Willis announced that he will retire from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that affects a person's ability to speak or comprehend speech.

Understandably, this might be the first time you're hearing of aphasia. Here are some answers to a few questions you may have.

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a communication disorder that makes it difficult or impossible to understand both spoken and written communication. But it's important to know that aphasia takes on different forms.

People with expressive aphasia might understand what people are saying but struggle to speak. Whereas people with receptive aphasia can build long, complex sentences but include unnecessary or incorrect words. People with global aphasia have severe difficulties with both expression and comprehension.

What are the symptoms of aphasia?

A person with aphasia might speak in short or incomplete sentences. Their sentences might not make sense, or they'll misuse words. They might have trouble understanding other people's conversations. They might also have difficulty reading and writing.

What causes aphasia?

The most common cause of aphasia is stroke. In fact, around 25-40% of stroke survivors experience some pattern of aphasia. In any case, this condition occurs when the parts of your brain responsible for language are damaged.

Is aphasia common?

Unfortunately, it is. About two million Americans experience aphasia – that's more than Parkinson's Disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.

In fact, Bruce Willis isn't the only celebrity to be diagnosed with the condition. Emilia Clarke, Sharon Stone, Dick Clark, Randy Travis and congresswomen Gabby Giffords all experienced different forms of aphasia.

Is aphasia treatable?

There is no cure for aphasia, but it's possible to recover or improve language and communication skills through language and speech therapy. However, few people regain pre-aphasia communication levels.

If you have questions about your health, connect with your doctor.

Updated April 8, 2022

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