What You Need to Know About Aphasia (Besides It Affects Your Speech)

Bruce Willis’ family posted on Instagram that the actor will be retiring due to health issues, including a recently diagnosed aphasia. Aphasia is a disorder that can affect a person’s ability to communicate.

What is aphasia?

There are several types of aphasia, but what they all have in common is the inability to speak or understand speech. (The word comes from Greek roots meaning “without speech.”)

While many diseases can lead to speech problems, aphasia refers to a problem that occurs specifically in the areas of the brain responsible for speech. Otherwise, a person with aphasia may still have perfectly normal cognition and may not have physical problems with their ears or mouth, but cannot say what they mean or understand what they hear.

For example: There is an area of ​​the brain known as Wernicke’s area that plays a big role in speech processing. Damage to this part of the brain can lead to Wernicke’s aphasia, where a person can still speak but has difficulty understanding others and themselves. One classic symptom is speaking in long sentences that don’t always make sense.

Meanwhile, another part of the brain called Broca’s area is involved in speech production and damage to this area is called Broca’s aphasia. People with this form of aphasia can say a few words but cannot string them together into sentences.

There are other types of aphasia, including conductive aphasia, which affects your ability to repeat what you hear, and anomic aphasia, in which you cannot remember the names of things. Global aphasia can affect several different aspects of speech use. Associated disorders include alexia (inability to read) and agraphia (inability to write). A person can have more than one of them at the same time.

How do people get aphasia?

Anything that causes local brain damage has the potential to cause aphasia. Stroke is one of the most common causes of aphasia, and stroke itself can result from cardiovascular disease or other conditions that affect the circulatory system. Most people’s speech processing areas are on the left side of the brain, so a stroke that affects the left hemisphere can cause a person to have aphasia, as well as weakness or paralysis on the right side of the body.

Other conditions that can cause aphasia include head injuries, infections, and tumors that affect the brain.

Can aphasia be cured?

When a person recovers from what caused the aphasia, they can often regain some of their brain function. Speech therapy can also help, not only by helping the person to relearn some of what they have lost, but also by helping them to take advantage of the abilities they have not lost. For example, someone with speech problems may rely more on gestures or written language.

If someone in your life has aphasia, the National Institute for Deafness and Communication Disorders has more information about aphasia here, and the Aphasia Institute has resources for patients and families here .

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