While details of what led to Willis’ aphasia diagnosis are unknown at this time, medical experts stress the importance of the brain condition and how its specifically treated — depending on its severity.
“[At some point], people will know somebody who’s had a stroke and has aphasia,” Dr. Swathi Kiran, professor of neurorehabilitation at Boston University, told NPR.
Aphasia is defined as a cognitive condition that affects the ability to speak, write and understand language, according to the Mayo Clinic. The brain disorder can occur after strokes or head injuries — and can even lead in some cases to dementia.
“As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him,” his daughter, Rumer Willis, said on Instagram. “This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support.”
It impacts the way a person can communicate
Medical experts say the impacts of aphasia can vary, depending on the person’s diagnosis.
People living with aphasia can experience changes in their ability to communicate; as they may find difficulty finding words, using words out of order or will even speak in a short manner, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Dr. Jonathon Lebovitz, a neurologist specializing in the surgical treatment of brain and spine conditions at Nuvance Health in western Connecticut, told NPR that a person’s condition depends on the exact portion of the brain that’s impacted.
“In most patients that have aphasia, it is a symptom of a larger medical issue,” said Lebovitz.
Aphasia diagnoses are more common than you think
According to the National Aphasia Association, the communication disorder affects roughly two million people in the U.S., as it’s more common than Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
Nearly 180,000 people in the U.S. acquire the condition each year. But anyone, including young children, can acquire it.
Individuals can also acquire aphasia as a result of a head injury, brain tumor or a degenerative process.
Treatment for aphasia focuses on the symptoms
Fortunately, treatment options for aphasia are indeed possible.
Traditionally, most people undergo a form of speech and language therapy to restore their communicative skills. Kiran said this form of therapy is a big part of what medical experts can do to help someone recover.
“The road to rehabilitation or therapy can be long and hard, but it’s possible for people to improve,” she said.
Additionally, there are ongoing clinical trials that use brain stimulation and may help improve one’s ability to regain skills, Kiran says.