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What is aphasia, the disorder that Bruce Willis suffers from?

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MWednesday, March 30, the relatives of Bruce Willis announced that the actor was ending his career due to aphasia. This news highlights this little-known language disorder which nevertheless affects more than 300,000 French people. “Aphasia designates a total or partial impairment of language following a brain injury”, underlines Dr.r Benoît Guillon, hospital neurology practitioner in the neurovascular unit of Nantes University Hospital. Depending on the degree of the disease, the aphasic person has difficulty speaking, understanding, reading or writing. Or all at once.

For the patient, obvious everyday gestures such as talking with those around him, watching television, listening to the radio or reading the newspaper become difficult, even impossible. There are several forms of aphasia depending on the area of ​​the brain affected. “In the case of Broca’s aphasia, the patient can hardly speak or write, but understands everything. Other patients suffer from Wernicke’s aphasia. They manage to speak, but transform the words, they jargon and then become difficult to understand for those around them, ”explains the neurologist. Global impairment, the more severe form of aphasia, causes intense difficulty in speaking, writing and understanding.

Suffering from aphasia, Bruce Willis ends his career

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Stroke, a common cause of aphasia

While Bruce Willis’ family hasn’t detailed the cause of his aphasia, there may be many. “Language is a lateralized function, managed by the left hemisphere of the brain. In some patients, aphasia comes on suddenly after a stroke,” says Dr.r Guillon. Before completing: “Aphasia can also result from head trauma. In other situations, its appearance is more gradual, as is particularly the case with a brain tumour. »

A neurodegenerative disease can also cause aphasia. “In some forms of dementia, the disease gradually settles in the language area. We then speak of a progressive primary aphasia”, describes the neurologist. “Please note that aphasia is in no way a psychological disorder or a mental disability. The intellectual abilities of the aphasic person are preserved. There is no question of deafness or voice problems. The aphasic person retains his sensitivity and his intelligence”, reframes the Dr Jean-Dominique Journet, President of the National Federation of Aphasics of France. Other disorders can accompany aphasia such as paralysis of half of the face, loss of muscle strength, sensitivity disorders, swallowing disorders or difficulty performing certain gestures.

Speech therapy

Currently, there is no medicine to relieve aphasia. The only treatment for this language disorder is based on speech therapy. “As soon as aphasia appears, it is necessary to carry out a complete speech therapy assessment in order to precisely identify the form and intensity of the disorder. In the case of a stroke, once the acute phase has passed, the aphasia is often stabilized, which makes it possible to see progress”, encourages the neurologist. Speech therapy is tailored to each patient. It is based on different aspects ranging from articulation to reading through comprehension. The objective is to give the patient communication skills in order to exchange with those around him.

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“Aphasia is a communication disability, patients often find themselves isolated. They need help to come out of their psychic suffering. For this, the only relevant interlocutor is the speech therapist, but we are sorely lacking in France”, regrets the president of the National Federation of Aphasics of France. Since 1985, the Federation has been working to raise awareness and train caregivers free of charge by organizing numerous workshops throughout the country. An aphasia awareness week is also planned in many cities between October 17 and 22, 2022.


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