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Signs You Have Aphasia Like Bruce Willis, According to Experts

Everything to know about aphasia and how it differs from dementia. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Fans were shocked when Bruce Willis' family announced  in an Instagram post he was retiring from acting due to a medical condition called aphasia. "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," their caption said. So what is this incurable disease and what are signs that indicate you have aphasia? Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. James Dan, MD, geriatric clinical advisor and member of the Senior Helpers Board of Directors explains what to know about the condition. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Aphasia?

Woman comforting anxious husband

Dr. Dan shares, "Aphasia is a condition that affects a person's ability to communicate and express oneself. The term 'Aphasia' represents expressive and receptive components. Expressive aphasia typically manifests as difficulty in word finding within one's speech or writing—meaning you know in your head what you wish to say, but quite literally can't find the words to say it. Meanwhile, receptive aphasia is a disorder in which one has difficulty comprehending what is spoken or written (i.e. you can read and hear the words, but do not understand what it means)."


Why Does Aphasia Happen?

Female middle aged doctor discussing with her senior stroke patient ct-scan images of her brain

Dr. Dan says, "Aphasia can be caused by a variety of disorders, including vascular blockage (e.g. stroke and various dementias). There are specific areas in the brain impacted by these diseases and lead to aphasia. Vascular and non-vascular dementias, e.g. Alzheimer's,  represent the majority of cases. With vascular, a person may have a brief blood clot that 'transiently' slows blood flow to the brain, resulting in a brief aphasia, or temporary episode."


​​Signs That Indicate You Have Aphasia

female neurologist is showing a male patient something on a synthetic brain

Dr. Dan states, "Aphasia diagnoses can range from mild to severe. As a result, the signs that indicate one might have aphasia can differ drastically, depending on the severity of the impairment. In general,  signs that indicate you may have aphasia include trouble forming complete sentences, word finding is a challenge, wrong use of words, difficulty understanding written/spoken sentences, etc."


How Aphasia Can Affect Your Overall Health and Daily Life

Empathic young lady embracing soothing crying depressed elder mommy, sitting together at home

"Aphasia affects a person's daily life in many ways," Dr. Dan reveals. "Whether it be reading, writing, speaking, etc., one's ability to communicate becomes extremely difficult and sometimes impossible. The patient is often aware of their debility, whether it is trouble with word recall in expressive aphasia or trouble comprehending what another is saying in receptive aphasia. This can often lead to social isolation, loneliness and depression. Depending upon the degree of the diagnosis, aphasia can be very disabling."


What is Treatment Like for Aphasia?

middle aged man in session with therapist

According to Dr. Dan, "Aphasia can be caused by a variety of disorders, including vascular blockage (e.g. stroke and various dementias). There are specific areas in the brain impacted by these diseases and lead to aphasia. That said, most aphasia diagnoses are stroke related; this means the damage is permanent. That said, there are some ways one can improve their aphasia and lessen the impairment. Speech therapy is a great example. The impairment can be lessened to help daily life with the help of speech therapy sessions, including reading/writing exercises, conversational coaching, word finding exercises (such as picture association techniques) and more." 


How Can You Help Prevent Aphasia?

Group seniors with dementia builds a tower in the nursing home from colorful building blocks

"There is no definite way to prevent aphasia," says Dr. Dan. "With dementia and strokes as the underlying causes, the same treatments can be rendered, but inevitably the problem worsens as the patient declines overall. Although there are many risk factors for dementia, prevention of the disease is possible in its early stages of discovery. Following generally good lifestyle habits can help contribute to one's sense of wellbeing and is highly recommended. In addition, one can partake in activities like socialization, word games (such as Scrabble where the brain's muscle memory is stimulated), math games, jigsaw puzzles (that encourage critical thinking skills and hand-eye coordination), etc. to help keep the mind active and slow down mental deterioration. All stroke prevention measures follow that of living a healthy lifestyle, including no smoking, healthy eating, regular exercise, removing alcohol consumption and controlling your blood pressure and diabetes."

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What is Dementia?

An old man touches his head. Headache. Alzheimer's disease

Dr. Dan explains, "Dementia is the general term for a group of diseases that have some differences in their clinical course, but all have diminishing mental capacity as a feature. Alzheimer's Disease is just one of the several causes. It is distinguished by the finding of tangles of abnormal proteins with brain imaging. Another common cause of dementia is vascular dementia; this is essentially the byproduct of many little strokes over time."

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How Dementia is Different from Aphasia

Senior woman conducting an interview

Dr. Dan states, "Dementia is a memory-loss condition that turns everyday tasks that are otherwise seen as simple, such as dressing, bathing, eating, etc., into a strenuous activity. A person with aphasia can still function when it comes to day-to-day activities.

Aphasia manifests itself in the inability to read, talk, write, etc. Dementia manifests itself in the inability to learn or relearn a task, trouble with recent memory / memory loss, withdrawal from long, enjoyable social activities (i.e. family events, game night with friends, etc.)."

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Can Dementia or Other Memory Disorders Cause Aphasia?

Pensioner reading message on mobile phone

"Simply put, in Alzheimer's and less common dementias, the disease process affects specific speech areas of the brain, causing aphasia," Dr. Dan says. "While Alzheimer's is not always the definitive cause of aphasia, it's common that people living with Alzheimer's also have some form of aphasia. Generally, this is not reversible."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather