Action hero and Hollywood superstar Bruce Willis recently revealed a shocking medical diagnosis that had many of us scratching our heads. His family announced that for several years now Willis was living with aphasia. The condition progressing to the point that he could no longer manage acting roles.
So what is aphasia? The National Aphasia Association says that 85% of Americans have never heard of it, but up to two million people in this country will be diagnosed with it this year.
Aphasia is a degenerative brain disorder, primarily impacting the way we produce and understand language. It is usually the result of brain damage or a lesion. Most commonly related to a stroke, people may also develop aphasia due to a tumor, vascular malformation or seizures.
Neurologist Dr. William Carracino with Lee Health in Fort Myers says the disorder can present in several ways. “In the expressive type of aphasia, people have difficulty in making intelligible language, but they can generally understand other people speaking to them.”
This is in contrast to the receptive form. “In a receptive aphasia, the patient can’t understand what other people are saying, but they can make fluent speech,” Carracino says. “The fluent speech may be nonsensical though.”
Little is known about the specifics of Willis’ case. His family only releasing a statement that the 67 year old star best known for his role in Armageddon as well as the Die Hard series of movies, was stepping away from acting. The extent of his progression has not been made public.
The Los Angeles Times reported that coworkers on his movie sets suspected Willis was in cognitive decline. He struggled to remember his lines, and sometimes had his dialogue fed through an earpiece.
In a recent Instagram post, Willis’ wife Emma Hemming Willis spoke of the stress of being a caretaker. She described balancing caring for her husband as well as tending to herself and their two daughters. Willis also shares three daughters with ex-wife, actress Demi Moore. The large, extended family expressing support for each other and Willis.
The outlook for someone suffering from aphasia is rather bleak. While intensive speech therapy may help with some forms of aphasia occurring as a result of stroke, many forms of the condition worsen over time.