Earlier this year, the family of one of the most famous actors in the world, Bruce Willis, announced he was stepping away from his long-running Hollywood career. They revealed in a simple statement the reason for his retirement is due to something called “aphasia,” a condition affecting a person’s ability to understand or express language and speech. Because this is mostly a little-known condition outside of the people affected by aphasia, many people are wondering what it is and who is at risk for developing it.
What is aphasia?
Aphasia can alter the way the brain works, and usually results from an injury or disease. According to the Mayo Clinic:
Aphasia is a condition that affects your ability to communicate. It can affect your speech, as well as the way you write and understand both spoken and written language. Aphasia typically occurs suddenly after a stroke or a head injury. But it can also come on gradually from a slow-growing brain tumor or a disease that causes progressive, permanent damage (degenerative).
They also state that the severity of a person’s aphasia depends on how the brain damage occurred, as well as its severity. Mr. Willis and his family are keeping the details of his condition private. However, as noted above, a progressive neurological disease, stroke, or a traumatic brain injury can cause aphasia in many patients.
What are the common symptoms of aphasia?
Johns Hopkins Medicine discusses the symptoms of aphasia, which depend on the type a person has:
- Broca aphasia, also called expressive aphasia, causes people to speak in short but understandable sentences. They might leave out words like “the” or “and.” Those with Broca aphasia often have right-sided weakness as well.
- Wernicke aphasia, also called receptive aphasia, causes confusing language and unnecessary, or even made-up, words. Patients may also have trouble understanding others.
- Global aphasia causes patients to have trouble with both expressing and understanding speech.
You or your loved one may not immediately recognize the signs of aphasia, and it is important to see a medical professional, especially when these symptoms manifest. Aphasia can develop from a variety of causes, and must be diagnosed by a physician, such as a neurologist.
What causes aphasia?
Typically aphasia is a symptom of another condition. The Mayo Clinic notes that the most common cause of aphasia is a stroke leading to brain damage. However, aphasia can also happen from “a severe head injury, a tumor, an infection or a degenerative process.” People may also experience temporary bouts of aphasia from migraines, seizures, or when “blood flow is temporarily blocked to an area of the brain,” such as with transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).
When the brain suffers damage to an area that controls language, aphasia can result. This includes traumatic brain injuries experienced in car accidents, truck accidents, and other accidents causing catastrophic injuries. Any person is at risk of developing aphasia, and Aphasia.org mentions about two million Americans are affected by the condition.
What are the treatments for aphasia?
With mild brain damage, aphasia may resolve on its own without treatment. However, with moderate to severe brain damage, most patients will need language and speech therapy to better live with the condition. The Mayo Clinic discusses various treatments and methods currently used to treat aphasia:
- Speech and language therapy. The goal of this therapy is to improve a patient’s ability to communicate by attempting to restore lost language skills and discovering other efficient ways to communicate with others.
- Prescription medications. Certain drugs that improve blood flow to the brain, as well as those that replace depleted chemicals (e.g., neurotransmitters) in the brain, are currently being researched to treat aphasia. However, more research is necessary to determine the long-term efficacy of these treatments.
- Brain stimulation. The goal of this therapy is to stimulate damaged brain cells to reduce the symptoms of aphasia. The methods of stimulation currently being researched are transcranial magnetic stimulation and direct current stimulation, both of which are noninvasive procedures.
Can you recover from aphasia?
The long-term outlook for an aphasia patient often depends on the severity of the person’s condition, as well as their other health conditions. Aphasia.org notes that, for many aphasia patients, returning to work after a diagnosis can be difficult because many jobs require speech, language, and communication skills. This may explain why Bruce Willis decided to retire from his career as an actor.
As for recovery, the website states:
If the symptoms of aphasia last longer than two or three months after a stroke, a complete recovery is unlikely. However, it is important to note that some people continue to improve over a period of years and even decades. Improvement is a slow process that usually involves both helping the individual and family understand the nature of aphasia and learning compensatory strategies for communicating.
Further, aphasia in no way indicates a lack of intelligence or cognitive skills, reminding patients’ family and friends that “a person with aphasia may have difficulty retrieving words and names, but the person’s intelligence is basically intact.”
If you or a loved one experienced a traumatic brain injury in an accident that was not your fault, the attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP want to help. We work with medical experts and other professionals to determine the scope of your injuries and how they are affecting your day-to-day life. Let us help you secure proper compensation for your losses.
One of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Jeff Harris is an award-winning litigator who handles high-profile, complex cases across a wide variety of practice areas. He excels at securing justice for clients who have been seriously injured or killed, holding responsible parties accountable for their actions as well as their negligence.
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