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Bruce Willis is Stepping Away From Acting Because of Aphasia - What is it?

Tuesday, April 05, 2022 1:34 PM

After Bruce Willis announced that he is stepping away from acting because he has aphasia, a national spotlight focused on this medical condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate.

NorthShore Neurologist Chad J. Yucus, MD, said aphasia is commonly the result of some type of injury to the brain, such as in individuals who suffered strokes.


“We all search for words sometimes. That’s not necessarily a sign of disease,” Dr. Yucus said. “If the trouble finding words becomes more prevalent and people start to notice, that’s when it becomes a problem and a person should see a neurologist for an evaluation.”

Here, Dr. Yucus, answers questions about aphasia: 

Besides a stroke, what are other causes of aphasia?

Traumatic head injury, infection, brain tumor, seizures, migraines or dementia can result in aphasia.

Does aphasia come on suddenly or gradually? Is it chronic or temporary?

Whether it’s chronic or short-term and whether it comes on suddenly or gradually depends on the cause and what areas of the brain it affects. Someone with primary progressive aphasia, which is linked to dementia, may experience aphasia that comes on gradually and worsens with time. On the contrary, an individual may suffer a seizure or migraine headache and suddenly, but temporarily, find it difficult to communicate.

Is aphasia subtle or obvious to others?

Aphasia may start out as subtle, depending on the cause, and may progress to being more obvious to others. The person has trouble finding the right words to communicate their thoughts and feelings, understanding what is being said to them and may have trouble communicating through writing.

Does treatment improve the condition? 

Once again it depends on what’s causing aphasia, but we do speech therapy with some patients to restore their ability to communicate as much as possible. An evaluation with a neurologist is helpful to determine if medication is appropriate or not.

The NorthShore Neurological Institute provides comprehensive, personalized treatment for patients. From the most advanced diagnostic imaging to specially trained physical therapists and expert physicians including neurologists and sleep medicine specialists, the Institute offers convenient access and expert care.