What is Aphasia, the disease that led to the retirement of Bruce Willis?

A few weeks ago the entertainment world lamented the decision of the famous actor Bruce Willis, 67, who announced his retirement after being diagnosed with aphasia, a language disorder caused by brain damage that prevents expressing and understanding language. .

In Direct Contact, from Radio Nacional de Colombia, Dr. Adriana Martínez, a neurologist and epileptologist from the Colombian Association of Neurology, explained that aphasia is not a disease but a symptom that can be produced by various causes, all related to brain injury, and which can hardly be reversed.

What does aphasia involve?

“It must be understood as a medical symptom that results from an alteration in the areas of the brain responsible for language and expression, that is, speech, and the comprehension of reading and writing. Any alteration or difficulty that we have to express ourselves, understand or interpret words through reading, speaking or writing is called aphasia.

What is the cause?

“Aphasia as such is a big box where all language disorders are included. The cause may come from a cerebral infarction or an ischemic event such as a cerebral thrombosis. It is usually given to people who have higher cardiovascular risks such as problems with blood pressure or sugar levels, high cholesterol and lack of exercise; It is these patients who are more predisposed to present aphasia, secondary to a thrombotic event.

On the other hand, if the cause is a neurodegenerative disease, aphasia will present itself progressively. This can be presented by frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s, which usually appear after the age of 70.

Finally, if the cause of the aphasia is due to some problem in the pregnancy, where there were problems in the uterus during the time of formation and as a consequence there is a scar on the brain since birth, that could generate an aphasia from the moment of birth”.

Which is the treatment?

“Depending on the type of aphasia and the moment of life in which it appears, it will be possible to understand the condition of this disorder and its possible treatment.

Let’s think that aphasia is like a damaged nail: it looks purple but what could really be wrong is underneath it due to an injury from a blow or a problem with fungi or bacteria. Aphasia is a symptom that tells us of a brain injury and, unless it is the product of a very small cerebral infarction, it will be irreversible.

In thrombotic events, rehabilitation with various medications and family support can be worked on; in this way it is possible to reverse some of the signs of aphasia. However, it is usually very difficult to make these kinds of changes in the brain when complicated symptoms are present.”

Can a person with aphasia speak?

“There are variants. Broadly speaking, there are patients who can speak and with whom you can work so that they can develop the emission of some words. In other cases there is a difficulty in understanding the meaning of words, and in others there is difficulty in finding the words to express oneself. In some types of aphasia, speech therapy can be used to repeat words, just as children are taught to speak.”

How disabling can language misunderstanding be?

“I believe that 100% of the difficulties in human relationships arise from poor communication, and if despite the fact that we do not have aphasia we see great communication problems, now imagine how difficult it must be to communicate when the brain does not have the capacity to process language appropriately.

A person with aphasia may even tell you to take the blue pencil when they really want to give you the yellow one. That is why it is vital that the family environment interprets it in a loving and understanding way, because not doing so could generate depression or alterations in that person’s mood.

As treating doctors we insist a lot on the family because socialization, changes in moods, and affectations in our interpersonal relationships can be lost. It can always be provided in certain diseases, despite the fact that there is a difficult diagnosis.

We all have to learn to understand that every day is a different day in that person’s brain and every day is an opportunity to learn a different word. This will vary depending on the type of person and brain, because you have to identify the abilities of each person depending on whether they enjoy art or mathematics more: they may have different abilities to be used in their treatment.

I always tell my patients that it is important to keep two things in mind: it is not normal to forget things and it is not normal to snore. When you forget or can’t find the words to express yourself, it’s time to go to neurology control because that can predict risk factors “.

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What is Aphasia, the disease that led to the retirement of Bruce Willis?