Questions swirl around Bruce Willis’s serious career-ending diagnosis: What is aphasia?

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The condition besetting legendary Hollywood actor Bruce Willis, aphasia, affects one’s ability to communicate, and given that acting revolves around communication, this is why he’s “stepping away” from his longtime, successful career.

As previously reported, early Wednesday virtually every member of the 67-year-old actor’s family uploaded a message to their respective Instagram account announcing his condition to the world.

“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,” the joint message read.

“As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him. This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support.”

It was signed “Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel, & Evelyn.”

 

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A post shared by Demi Moore (@demimoore)

In addition to shock and tears, the message also inspired an outpouring of questions concerning this rare, mysterious condition.

The Mayo Clinic notes that it “can affect your speech,” in addition to “the way you write and understand both spoken and written language.”

The condition is reportedly caused by damage to the part of the brain that handles comprehension and expression. The damage is usually incurred during a stroke or head injury, though it can also spawn “gradually from a slow-growing brain tumor or a disease that causes progressive, permanent damage,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

The only treatment plan calls for the patient relearning how to communicate correctly by undergoing “speech and language therapy to rehabilitate their language skills and supplement their communication experiences.”

However, in cases where the brain damage is mild, the patient may be able to recover his or her communication skills without any therapy.

The level of brain damage sustained by Willis remains unclear. The public is also in the dark regarding how exactly he’d contracted his condition, though some have already begun to speculate on the matter:

What’s known is that “aphasia occurs mostly in patients over the age of 65,” according to The New York Times, meaning Willis is within the “correct” age bracket.

What’s also known — or, rather, has been claimed — is that the actor had been coming apart mentally in the months leading up to Wednesday’s stunning announcement.

The Sun, a British tabloid outlet, obtained confirmation from the actor’s longtime stunt double, Stuart F. Wilson, that his behavior “had noticeably changed over the past year.”

“We had seen some changes, but a lot of times with bigger celebrities that are really, really popular like, like Bruce, they have a million different things going on,” Stuart told The Sun, describing how he’d abstained from reading too much into it at first.

“Sometimes when you were talking to him, he just seemed sidetracked and we would think it would mean nothing but you would wonder if there are other things going on.”

But as time progressed, the symptoms grew worse. And indeed, speaking with the Times, Dr. Shazam Hussain of the Cerebrovascular Center at the Cleveland Clinic said that this is how it usually plays out.

“Everyone can have periods where they’re busy or distracted or forgetting a word,” he said, adding that the difference is that with aphasia, the behavior grows worse instead of just petering out.

“Their sentences become shorter and shorter. Then, they get to a point where they have difficulty expressing any language at all,” he said to the Times.

According to the Mayo Clinic, typical aphasia symptoms include speaking in short/incomplete sentences, speaking/writing nonsensically and not understanding other people’s conversation.

Aphasia usually manifests in one of three forms:

Expressive aphasia – “People with this pattern of aphasia may understand what other people say better than they can speak.”

Comprehensive aphasia — People with this pattern of aphasia … may speak easily and fluently in long, complex sentences that don’t make sense or include unrecognizable, incorrect or unnecessary words. They usually don’t understand spoken language well and often don’t realize that others can’t understand them.”

Global aphasia — “This aphasia pattern is characterized by poor comprehension and difficulty forming words and sentences. Global aphasia results from extensive damage to the brain’s language networks. People with global aphasia have severe disabilities with expression and comprehension.”

It’s not clear which type is affecting Willis.

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