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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. 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 both written and spoken language. It can affect expression or comprehension, or both,” says neurologist, Carlos Guerrero, MD. He 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
  • Difficulty reading
  • Inability to follow others’ conversations
  • Inability to state names of objects, instead using descriptions
  • 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,” Dr. Guerrero, “neurologists perform a full neurologic exam, including strength, sensation and reflexes. They will carefully evaluate your thinking, or cognitive abilities, paying close attention to your language skills, such as the ability to engage in conversation, read and write, name objects and follow simple instructions. The next step is usually an MRI of the brain and neuropsychological testing to identify what's causing the aphasia.”

What are the Treatment Options?

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

Dr. Guerrero offers encouragement that aphasia can improve in some cases. He explains, “Each patient’s progress depends greatly on the underlying cause of aphasia. While aphasia from a stroke often improves gradually, those caused by dementias worsen over time. Patients can still benefit from therapy to optimize communication between patients and loved ones.”

Best Neurological Care for Body, Mind and Spirit

At AdventHealth Neuroscience Institute, we offer exceptional care and leading-edge treatments for neurological disorders like aphasia and many more, such as:

  • Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Brain Aneurysms and Cysts
  • Migraines
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Psychiatric Conditions
  • Seizures and Epilepsy
  • Skull-Based Tumors

Your nervous system controls your whole being, from each intricate movement of your body, the thoughts in your mind, down to every emotion you experience. That’s why we offer whole-person care for all your neurology needs with both empathy and expertise, so you can focus on what’s important to you and continue living life to the fullest.

Visit us here for care that makes you feel whole.

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