The family of Bruce Willis recently announced he would be retiring from acting following an aphasia diagnosis. The physicians at Family Healthcare Associates want to do our part during “Aphasia Awareness Month” to educate our patients on this little-known brain disorder, which affects two million Americans. With added education about aphasia, the more we can
understand how people are living with it.

Here are the basics. Aphasia is not a disease, but a neurological disorder caused by damage to the brain responsible for language production and processing. Aphasia goes beyond just an inability to speak it also affects writing, understanding, listening, and reading. People have failed to remember words or someone’s name. Most people with aphasia cannot produce the word at all. They may know what they want to say but cannot say it.

While the Willis family did not divulge the cause of his aphasia, it can be associated with people who have suffered a stroke. Aphasia can also occur because of a brain tumor, infection, inflammation, head injury, or dementia.

Aphasia has four distinct categories:

  1. Expressive aphasia (or Broca’s aphasia): People who suffer from this form of aphasia have difficulty communicating their thoughts through speech, or writing. They know what they want to say, but they cannot find the words. 
  1. Receptive aphasia (or Wernicke’s aphasia): People who suffer from this form of aphasia have difficulty understanding the spoken or written language. They may speak in long sentences that don’t make sense, and are typically unaware of their mistakes. 
  1. Global aphasia: People who suffer from this form of aphasia cannot speak, understand speech, read, or write. 
  1. Anomic (oramnesia) aphasia: This the least severe form of aphasia where people have difficulty using the correct names for objects, people, places, or events. 

What Are the Symptoms? 

Aphasia may occur suddenly, or creep up on patients (taking years to diagnose). In these cases, people who are suffering from symptoms don’t know how to describe what they are experiencing to others, so it can be extremely mystifying to diagnose. 

Can You Recover from Aphasia? 

Recovery depends on the severity of the injury. In some instances, a person may recover without treatment, but more often a neurologist will focus on what can be done, such as treating a vitamin B-12 deficiency or a thyroid imbalance, which might be contributing to the condition.  

Once the cause of aphasia is identified, the patient works with a speech therapist to regain as much speech as possible. Language therapy can improve a person’s ability to communicate by helping them use their remaining language abilities, while learning other ways to communicate such as hand gestures, and using pictures, or electronic devices. 

If you have a loved one with aphasia, Family Healthcare Associates encourages you stay positive. We realize it can be a very frustrating disorder to live with, but the good news is aphasia often spares other cognitive functions. Some people can still participate in activities they enjoy, so long as they find a way to effectively communicate.  

Finally, if you notice you are having any symptoms of aphasia, make an appointment with one of our physicians and get tested.