aphasia

What is Aphasia? What to Know About the Condition After Bruce Willis' Diagnosis

News that famed actor Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with aphasia sent shockwaves through Hollywood and beyond

News that famed actor Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with aphasia sent shockwaves through Hollywood and beyond, but it also led to some questions from those wondering what exactly it is and what it means for Willis.

Aphasia is a condition that "robs you of the ability to communicate," according to the Mayo Clinic.

"It can affect your ability to speak, write and understand language, both verbal and written," the hospital group's website reads.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the language disorder is "caused by damage in a specific area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension."

While the condition can appear suddenly after such things like a stroke or head injury, it can also appear gradually from things like a brain tumor or a disease that causes brain damage.

"The severity of aphasia depends on a number of conditions, including the cause and the extent of the brain damage," Mayo Clinic states.

The condition is most common in middle-aged and elderly individuals, health experts said.

"You can know what you want to say, the words are in your brain somewhere but you can't retrieve those words and communicate effectively," said University of Chicago Medicine Dr. James Mastrianni. "Sometimes the words just go away and that's a different kind of aphasia...words start to fade away."

According to Willis' family, his aphasia has been "impacting his cognitive abilities," though they did not specify what may have caused his condition.

"As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him," his family wrote in a statement posted to social media. "This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support."

Willis had just recently celebrated his 67th birthday.

According to Johns Hopkins, while some people diagnosed with aphasia do recover completely, many experience lingering effects.

"Treatments such as speech therapy can often help recover some speech and language functions over time, but many people continue to have problems communicating," the health group stated. "This can sometimes be difficult and frustrating both for the person with aphasia and for family members."

Mayo Clinic also reports that while some recovery is possible, "few people regain full pre-injury communication levels."

"We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him," Willis' family wrote in their statement. "As Bruce always says, 'Live it up' and together we plan to do just that."

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