Experts explain Bruce Willis’ condition and how often they see it

Bruce Willis is “stepping away” from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia.

Aphasia is a condition that affects about a million people in the U.S.

The disorder can happen suddenly, after a stroke or brain injury, or with a gradual deterioration of brain tissue.

Speech pathologist from TIRR Memorial Hermann Ethan Kleine often works with these patients and compares the condition to a puzzle.

“Throughout your life, you put your puzzle together, and it’s every word that you know. It’s called your lexicon,” Kleine explained. “What aphasia is, it’s like someone comes up and grabs your completed puzzle and just throws it up against the wall.”

Trying to sift through a broken puzzle to find one piece is how complicated recalling every word in a sentence can be for aphasia patients.

Symptoms include:

  • Trouble finding words
  • Substituting or making up words
  • Talking around words
  • Using abnormally short phrases
  • Difficulty reading and writing

Kleine said some people respond well to speech and language therapy. Some can even return to work.

However, it can also be frustrating, isolating, and increases the risk of suicide.

“It’s difficult to communicate pain,” Kleine said. “It’s difficult to communicate hunger or thirst, discomfort if you’re not able to express yourself and let people know what you want.”

Most people who develop aphasia are middle-aged or older, but it can happen to anyone. The National Aphasia Association said nearly 180,000 Americans are diagnosed with it each year.

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