Aphasia: What Exactly Is This Debilitating Condition Afflicting Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis will step down from acting because of aphasia.
bruce willis aphasia

The popular Hollywood actor, Bruce Willis, has retired from “Lights, Camera, Action!” The Die-Hard star has been diagnosed with Aphasia, a neurological disorder that causes cognitive deficits and makes understanding and expressing language challenging.

The 67-year-old actor’s family disclosed on Instagram that his medical condition is hurting his cognitive ability. Hence, after much consideration, “Bruce will be retiring from the acting career that has meant the world to him,” his daughter Rumer Willis announced on social media.

1200px Bruce Willis Walk of Fame
Bruce Willis Walk of Fame by Peter under CC BY 2.0

“We’re coping with it as a strong family unit, and we wanted to include his fans because we understand how important he is to you. During this bad time for our family, we are grateful for your continued love, compassion, and support,” the post reads.


“As Bruce Willis frequently says, live it up, and together we hope to do exactly that.” His wife, Emma Heming Willis, his ex-wife Demi Moore, and his five children, Mabel, Tallulah, Scout, Rumer, and Evelyn, signed the statement.

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a severe language disorder caused by injury to a part of the brain controlling language comprehension and expression. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the medical condition steals someone’s ability to communicate effectively, making it challenging to speak or write or even know what others are saying.

Aphasia may be unfamiliar to you, but it is a neurological disorder that typically affects individuals in their middle to late years. It affects 2 million Americans, according to the National Aphasia Association, and is “more common than muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or Parkinson’s disease.” Approximately 180,000 people are diagnosed each year, according to the organization.

Aphasia by Bertyhell. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

How does Aphasia occur?

According to the health resource, “aphasia commonly “occurs abruptly” after a stroke or a head injury, but can also develop gradually if someone has a “slow-growing brain tumor” or a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease.” Temporary episodes of Aphasia can be caused by seizures, migraines, or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which occurs when the blood flow to the brain is unexpectedly disrupted.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)  and Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, The disease can “co-occur” with speech impairments such as apraxia or dysarthria of speech, which are also caused by brain damage.

Aphasia is divided into two categories by the National Institutes of Health: fluent and nonfluent, depending on where the brain damage occurs. “Fluent” Aphasia describes people that lose their capacity to find and repeat words and sentences, yet they may still communicate and understand others. “Nonfluent” Aphasia affects those who have suffered more serious damage.


According to the National Institutes of Health, a person with a temporal lobe injury, for instance, may develop Wernicke’s Aphasia, the most common type of fluent Aphasia, which affects a person’s ability to speak and clearly understands other people’s speech. 

The National Institutes of Health explains that “those with Wernicke’s aphasia may speak in prolonged, nonsensical phrases, adding unnecessary words and even making up terms.”

Aphasia 1


Aphasia patients may have difficulty finding words, speaking in a choppy, halting manner, or using small pieces of speech. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), they can even make up nonsensical terms and utilize them in their speech and writing, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). They can even make up nonsensical terms and use them in their speech and writing.  


In their written communications, grammatical faults and run-on phrases are prevalent.

“The person who has aphasia may have difficulty accurately replicating words and letters”. ASHA explains.

It’s also probable that Aphasia patients’ ability to understand others would suffer. They may find it challenging to comprehend spoken or written terms, and they may need enough time to absorb and understand what is being spoken or read. They may also lose their ability to read and understand written language.


“Those who suffer from aphasia struggle to accurately replicate words and letters”. ASHA explains.

How is Aphasia diagnosed?

A neurologist commonly identifies Aphasia after a brain injury. The first step is to conduct a CT or MRI scan on people who have had a brain injury to help doctors pinpoint the exact location of the damage. Aside from brain scans, the individual will almost certainly be asked a series of questions to test their capacity to “understand and produce language.” A physician may then recommend that a person see a speech-language pathologist.

Causes and treatment

According to ASHA, a severe brain injury, a stroke, a brain infection or tumor, or a degenerative brain condition like dementia are all prevalent causes of Aphasia. Stroke, however, is by far the most common cause. “Between 25 and 40 percent of stroke survivors acquire Aphasia,” said the National Aphasia Association, with the elderly being the most vulnerable.


Willis’ family has been mum about the cause of his Aphasia.


Aphasia treatment depends on the individual’s symptoms. Lesser cases can be treated through rehabilitation, using speech therapy to retrain the brain to identify words to enable the patient to write and talk again. For people with degenerative illnesses who are predicted to degrade further, health specialists typically focus on compensating aid in the form of visuals and large print formats.

According to NAA, “a complete recovery from Aphasia is rare if symptoms persist for about three months after a stroke.” They added, “Some patients will continue to improve for years, if not decades.”


Can Aphasia be cured?

Over the years, research has revealed that it is possible to improve these brain-controlled activities. Fast recovery is aided by speech-language therapy, nonverbal communication therapies, and family group therapy.

The body says that communication-oriented treatments, in part, help people convey messages and feelings with alternative means of communicating.” Clinical researchers are working to create new therapies for specific forms of language impairment, such as verb retrieval and sentence formulation.

Willis is renowned for films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Die Hard,” and “The Sixth Sense.” He has, in recent years, churned out straight-to-video thrillers and has already shot at least six more films to be released in 2022 and 2023, including “Corrective Measures,” “Die Like Lovers,” and “The Wrong Place.


Feature image credit: Bruce Willis by Gage Skidmore 2. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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