What is aphasia and what causes it?

What is aphasia and what causes it?
Bruce Willis announces aphasia diagnosis and the end of his acting career
Independent TV

Bruce Willis, famed for his iconic Die Hard movies, has announced he will be "stepping away" from his acting career after being diagnosed with aphasia.

Willis' family released a statement via Instagram on Wednesday, explaining that the condition is "impacting his cognitive abilities."

"This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support," they penned in the heartfelt announcement.

"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," they added.

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So what exactly is aphasia? Here's everything you need to know.

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a disorder that makes it difficult for people to speak, write and understand language.

It can affect people of any age but is most common in people over 65. Aphasia can often occur after a sudden emergency, such as a stroke or head injury. It can also come on slowly over time.

Approximately 180,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with aphasia every year and more than 350,000 people in the UK were living with aphasia in 2018.

What causes it?

Aphasia is caused by damage to areas of the brain responsible for understanding and producing language.

Stroke is the most common cause because it can prevent the brain tissue from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function.

Other causes include brain tumours and progressive neurological conditions, such as dementia.

What challenges do people with aphasia face?

Some people may speak in brief or incomplete sentences. In other instances, they may use longer sentences that don't make sense or unrecognisable words.

This can potentially extend to writing too.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with aphasia have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses:

  • Expressive aphasia (also known as Broca's or nonfluent aphasia): People who fall under this pattern may understand what others say, better than they can speak. They often struggle to get words out and speak in short sentences.
  • Comprehensive aphasia (also called fluent or Wernicke's aphasia): People with comprehensive aphasia may speak fluently in complex sentences, but use unrecognisable, incorrect or unnecessary words. They generally don't understand spoken language very well and often don't realise that others can't understand them.
  • Global aphasia: This is characterised by poor comprehension and difficulty forming sentences. People with global aphasia have severe disabilities with expression and comprehension. It often results from extensive damage to the brain's language networks.

What are the treatment options?

The NHS says speech and language therapy is the main type of treatment for aphasia. The aim is to help restore some of the ability to communicate, along with alternative methods of communicating, if necessary.

The success rate differs from person to person. Some make a degree of recovery, while others recover fully.

You can find support below if you have been affected by aphasia:

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