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What is Aphasia and How is it Treated?

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Movie star Bruce Willis’ family announced that the famous actor is “stepping away” from his career due to complications with a neurological disorder called aphasia.

Willis’ oldest daughter, Rumer, posted on her 67-year-old father’s behalf:

“To Bruce's amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities. As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”

As an icon who appeared healthy and invincible in many of his familiar films, Bruce Willis’ aphasia diagnosis and its impact on his ability to continue acting shocked fans all over the world. Many are wondering, what is aphasia and how does it affect the people who have it? And, what are the treatment options for aphasia? We’re here to answer those questions and more.

What is Aphasia?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIH), Aphasia is a disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. For most people, these areas are on the left side of the brain.

Aphasia usually occurs suddenly, often following a stroke or head injury. It can also develop slowly, as the result of a brain tumor or a progressive neurological disease. Like in Willis’ case, most people who have aphasia are middle-aged or older. But anyone can acquire it, including young children. About 1 million people in the United States currently have aphasia, and nearly 180,000 Americans acquire it each year.

How Does Aphasia Affect People?

“Aphasia impairs the ability to express and understand language,” says speech language pathologist, Jessica Ares. She continues, “Most people also experience difficulty reading and writing, but it doesn’t affect their intelligence.”

Look for the following symptoms if you think you or a loved one could have aphasia:

  • Difficulty finding the right words to speak or write
  • Inability to follow others’ conversations
  • Migraines or seizures
  • Speaking unrecognizable words
  • Substituting one word or sound for another
  • Writing or speaking words or sentences that don't make sense

Reach out to one of our exceptional health care providers if you recognize these signs.

How is Aphasia Diagnosed?

“To diagnose aphasia,” explains Jessica, “you’ll likely undergo tests and observations by a speech language pathologist to assess your communication skills, such as the ability to read and write, engage in conversation, answer questions, follow directions and name common objects.

What are the Treatment Options?

Aphasia is typically treated based on the severity of brain damage by speech and language therapy or surgery. Specialists who will partner with you are a neurologist and a speech-language pathologist.

Aphasia therapy aims to improve patients’ ability to communicate by helping them use their remaining language skills, restore language as much as possible and learn other ways of communicating through gestures, images or use of electronic devices.

From a speech-language perspective, Jessica offers encouragement that aphasia can and sometimes does improve: “Each patient’s progress largely depends on the underlying cause of their aphasia. While aphasia caused by a stroke often improves gradually, those caused by dementia tend to slowly worsen. Patients may still benefit from therapy to optimize communication between patients and loved ones,” she says.

Leading-Edge Therapy for Your Body, Mind and Spirit

Our team at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab understands the pain, frustration and changes our patients are going through. Our world-class therapy team and state-of-the-art equipment can help you recover from symptoms and complications of these conditions and more:

  • ALS
  • Amputation
  • Aphasia
  • Brain Injury
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Myopathy
  • Neuromuscular Disorders
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Post Op Brain Tumor Resection
  • Post Op Craniotomy
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Spinal Muscular Atrophy
  • Stroke

If you or a loved one is facing the challenge of a neurological impairment such as aphasia, our highly skilled and certified speech, physical and occupational therapists will be by your side to help you achieve your maximum potential with the compassion you deserve.

Visit us at We want to support your whole health ­— in body, mind and spirit.

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