Die Hard movie series actor Bruce Willis is stepping away from acting after he was recently diagnosed with aphasia- a speech and cognitive ability degenerative disorder.
In a statement shared on social media by his wife Emma Willis as well as ex-wife Demi Moore and daughter Rumer Willis, the family stated that it was a difficult decision but the disease and full-time work was affecting the 67-year-old actor's cognitive ability.
Willis was only recently diagnosed with aphasia. Normally seen in patients who are recovering from a stroke, aphasia affects areas of the brain that control speech and language. About one-third of patients who suffered from strokes are also subsequently diagnosed with aphasia.
A neurological disorder, studies by the US National Aphasia Association find that close to 84 per cent people had never even heard of such a disorder let alone know the symptoms and effects of it. From the remaining that are aware, most of them stated that they knew somebody who was suffering from the disorder.
In Willis' case, the family has not shared the procedure of diagnosis.
BOOM spoke to Ms. Zahra Virani, audiologist and speech language pathologist as well as founder of Holding Hope Speech Therapy Clinic, Mumbai, to understand the progression of the disease and ways to recovery.
"Recovery and reversibility depend on the extent of injury to the brain along with the kind of interventions that the patient is ready to work with," Virani told BOOM.
What Is Aphasia?
An acquired speech and language disorder, aphasia affects one's ability to communicate and express themselves. Along with strokes, dementia is also a precursor for this ailment.
"Aphasia augments comprehension and expression disability after the brain has undergone trauma in the form of a stroke or paralysis. The first three months are extremely crucial to provide the correct trials to see better results," Virani explained.
The speech language pathologist also said that there are different measures to identify the kind of aphasia and the therapy that should be provided to the patients.
"The three major types of aphasia are where only comprehension is affected, where only expression is affected, and the most severe form is where both comprehension and expression is affected," Virani said.
In the first type, the person cannot understand a statement or carry out a task which is commanded. This affects cognition as the brain fails to collect the information which is being provided verbally to it. In the second, the person can comprehend but cannot express or state what they want to say.
How Is Aphasia Diagnosed?
Virani told BOOM that in the first three months when pathologists are meeting patients, they conduct preliminary assessments to check for any specific, long-lasting disorders. The test that they specifically use for diagnosis is called the Western Aphasia Battery Test.
In this test, they check for both linguistic and non-linguistic skills. For checking linguistic skills, pathologists look for fluency, auditory comprehension, word-finding, reading, and writing while for non-linguistic skills they assess them through drawings, calculations, block designs. This test helps speech therapists determine the location and type of lesion in the brain.
Is Aphasia Reversible?
Virani said that along with medication, therapy is crucial. Therapy fastens the process of healing and aphasia could be reversible if the damage to the brain is not extensive.
She also highlighted the "neuro-plasticity" feature of the brain. The human brain is capable of reforming connections and networks and self-healing. Speech pathologists assist in ensuring that the progression of healing, many a time from scratch, is not stress-inducing.
"It is a continuous process. We start from the very basic as if we are teaching a child to speak and express. Recovery is in stages and progresses with time. Complete reversibility and healing is a possibility if the brain is not severely damaged," the speech pathologist explained.
Virani also added that there are several augmentative alternative communication methods (AACMS) that are driven by technology and help in recuperating faster.
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