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Explained: What is aphasia that hit Bruce Willis?

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New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) Hollywood star Bruce Willis, known for his role in “Die Hard” series, has been diagnosed with aphasia – a language disorder caused by brain damage that affects a person’s ability to communicate.

In a statement posted on Willis’ Instagram page on Thursday, the 67-year-old actor’s family announced that the actor is retiring from the profession as he was recently diagnosed with aphasia and that it was impacting his cognitive abilities.

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“As a result of this and with much consideration, Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him,” read the statement signed by Willis’ wife, Emma Heming Willis, his ex-wife Demi Moore, and his five children, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel, and Evelyn.

The Mayo Clinic defines aphasia as an inability to communicate. The condition can affect speech, as well as the way one writes and understands both spoken and written language.

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While aphasia typically occurs suddenly after a stroke or a head injury, it can also develop gradually from a slow-growing brain tumour or a disease that causes progressive, permanent damage (degenerative).

Aphasia can be devastating both for the individual and the family. According to experts, it causes depression in over a third of cases and can lead to personality shifts and can even alienate friends and family from the affected person.

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“Imagine being dropped in a country where you do not speak the language — cannot understand, read, write or speak. It would impact all of your interactions — this is what it is like to have aphasia,” Darlene Williamson, president of the National Aphasia Association, told DailyMail.com.

There are four common types of aphasia that make up a vast majority of cases: Wernicke’s, Broca’s, anomic, and Primary Progressive Aphasia. These affect speech fluency, understanding of spoken or written words, and the ability to repeat words and phrases.

The condition also affects an individual’s expression – thoughts and ideas through speech or writing, as well as reception – understanding spoken language or reading.

It can typically be diagnosed by imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) and the main treatment for aphasia is speech and language therapy.

While aphasia cannot be preventable, the risk of brain damage, such as stroke, can be reduced by taking steps to maintain brain health. This includes healthy lifestyle, eating healthy, exercising daily, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol intake, keeping blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol under guideline limits, quitting smoking and getting an adequate amount of sleep.

It is impossible to say for Willis in particular how drastically the condition has affected him and his behaviour, but it is very hard for an actor to continue in his career, as just the process of speaking out lines can become a challenge. Other famous examples of aphasia include former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke.

Willis’ acting career started in the early 1980s with uncredited roles in films such as Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict”.

His career exploded later that decade thanks to his starring role opposite Cybil Shepherd in the series “Moonlighting” and his performance as John McClane in the 1988 action movie “Die Hard”, which gave Willis his first major film franchise. He’s been nominated for five Golden Globes and three Emmys.

–IANS

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