What is aphasia? Bruce Willis to step away from acting amid diagnosis

Entertainment

The family of actor Bruce Willis, seen here, said Wednesday that he would be “stepping away” from acting amid an aphasia diagnosis. (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – Bruce Willis is stepping away from acting after recently being diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that is “impacting his cognitive abilities,” according to a statement shared by his family.

Aphasia, which can cause varying degrees of impairment in speech or understanding language, currently affects more than 2 million Americans, the National Aphasia Association estimates. The condition often results from a stroke or brain injury, but can develop over time due to brain tumors or progressive neurological disease.

Aphasia can affect people of any age, though most who are diagnosed are “middle-aged or older,” according to the National Institute of Health.

There are several different types of aphasia that fall within two categories: fluent and nonfluent. Fluent aphasia generally develops from damage to the temporal lobe, and can result in a common form of the condition called Wernicke’s aphasia, which may cause a person to have trouble understanding speech, or speak in “long, complete sentences that have no meaning,” the NIH writes. Nonfluent aphasia, found more commonly in those with damage to the frontal lobe, can result in Broca’s aphasia, a type that may hinder speech and cause a person to speak in short phrases or smaller words, despite generally having a better understanding of speech.

There are, however, many forms of aphasia that may have different symptoms.

“Nearly all patients with aphasia have word-finding difficulties – that is, coming up with the correct name of persons, places, things, or events,” the Cleveland Clinic notes.

Patients who suffer aphasia as a result of a brain injury may recover some of their language and cognitive abilities on their own, though many may not. Rehabilitation programs focusing on speech and language therapy can offer further help.

Drug therapies are also being explored as an “experimental approach” to treatment, according to the NIH.

“Some studies are testing whether drugs that affect the chemical neurotransmitters in the brain can be used in combination with speech-language therapy to improve recovery of various language functions,” the agency writes.

Willis’ family, including his wife, ex-wife and five daughters, had released a statement on Instagram announcing his diagnosis on Wednesday.

“This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support. 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,” the statement read, in part.

Further details of Willis’ diagnosis and health issues were not disclosed.

Willis, 67, had appeared in more than a dozen movies since 2020, with several still in post-production.

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