Immensely popular for his action roles and smart-aleck-nice-guy demeanor, Bruce Willis personifies the proverbial kid-at-heart even at 67 years old. Thus, his family’s March 30th announcement that he would no longer be acting hit our cultural zeitgeist like a gut punch. The reason? The father of five daughters (the youngest 7 and 10 years old) has been diagnosed with aphasia, a disorder linked to neurological changes or damage to the brain. The news seems more devastating given that this actor beloved for his fast talking – from outrageous quips in Moonlighting to the yippee-ki-yay battle cry in Die Hard, would be hit by a condition that robs people of their language abilities.

What is Aphasia?

The National Institutes of Health defines aphasia as a disorder after damage has been done to the sections of the human brain that are responsible for language. People with aphasia have difficulty with the expression and understanding of language, along with reading and writing. Aphasia may accompany speech disorders, such as dysarthria or apraxia of speech, which also are linked to brain damage.

Some of the signs of aphasia:

  • Saying the wrong word
  • Using made-up words
  • Having trouble finding words
  • Not understanding what is being said
  • Having difficulty completing sentences
  • Switching sounds in words
  • Combining real words and made-up words

Can Aphasia Be Prevented?

Bruce Willis’ family along with many families of the estimated 2 million Americans affected by aphasia might wonder what could have been done to prevent the condition. The reality is there’s no sure way to prevent aphasia, given that all cases stem from neurological changes in the brain with strokes being the number one cause. About 25-40% of stroke survivors acquire aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association. Click HERE for more aphasia communication tips from the NAA.

The next most common cause of aphasia is a brain injury. Closely following as primary aphasia triggers are degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and Parkinson’s disease, or a health crisis tied to hypoglycemia, urinary tract infection, or antibiotic-related neurotoxicity. Other causes include brain injuries like a severe blow to the head, brain infections and brain tumors.

Controlling Risk Factors for Stroke

Of course, many people – including young adults and children – suffer strokes due to reasons that are out of their control. Being that stroke is the most common cause of aphasia, older adults would be sensible to adopt healthy habits that can reduce their risk of having a stroke as they continue to age. Though there is no 100% effective way to prevent a stroke, the following simple lifestyle practices are commonly recommended by healthcare professionals, especially to older adults who have a family history of stroke:

  • Exercise regularly (following your doctor’s instructions)
  • Eat healthy and cut back on sodium (salt)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking if you do smoke
  • Watch your health numbers for stroke risk factors including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes
  • If your numbers are not in the healthy range, ask your doctor how to lower them

Can You Recover from Aphasia?

According medical research organizations like the Mayo Clinic, a person may be able to recover language skills if the damage to the brain is mild and speech and language therapy is successful. However, it usually is a slow process and the aphasia sufferer will need to learn other ways to communicate.

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of having trained, knowledgeable caregivers to support a loved one recovering from a stroke or striving to manage a chronic condition, please contact one of our friendly and resourceful Amada Senior Care advisors. Click here to find an Amada Senior Care location near you.


“Is Aphasia Preventable in Older Adults and the Elderly?,” written by Michelle Flores, Amada blog contributor.