Understanding Aphasia: Bruce Willis Diagnosis Puts Language Disorder in the Spotlight
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Sheds Light on Condition
The recent announcement by Bruce Willis’ family that the actor has been diagnosed with aphasia has brought attention to the language disorder, which is relatively common but not well known by the general public. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) encourages the public and media to seek out evidence-based information about this condition—and stresses that treatment is available from speech-language pathologists (SLPs).
Below is some information about the language disorder. More details are available on ASHA’s website.
What is Aphasia?
Aphasia is a language disorder that can occur when a person experiences changes in the brain from injury or disease. This is most often due to stroke; however, any type of brain damage can cause aphasia. Aphasia can make it hard for someone to understand, speak, read, or write. This depends on the parts of the brain that are affected. Aphasia is not associated with cognitive deficits. However, word-finding difficulty, a hallmark symptom of aphasia, may also be an early symptom of other neurological conditions such as primary progressive aphasia—which are accompanied by cognitive impairments.
How is Aphasia Diagnosed and Treated?
SLPs evaluate a person’s speech and language skills. In making a diagnosis, they will assess how well a person:
Understands words, questions, directions, and stories.
Says words and sentences. The SLP asks a person to name objects, describe pictures, and answer questions.
Reads and writes. The SLP will have a person write letters, words, and sentences—as well as read short stories and answer questions about them.
Aphasia can be treated in various ways, depending on the specific difficulties a person is having and what their goals are (e.g., getting back to work, taking care of family members, participating in specific life activities). SLPs work with people with aphasia one on one, as well as in groups to improve their communication skills. They may also help them find other ways to share ideas when they have trouble talking. This may include pointing, drawing, or using other gestures (called augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC). They also include family members who support their loved one’s communication.
How Can Loved Ones Help Someone With Aphasia?
Loved ones can help their family member or friend by connecting them with a certified SLP. A doctor can provide recommendations for local SLPs. A national database of these professionals is also available at www.asha.org/profind.
As you communicate with a person with aphasia in everyday life, use these tips:
•Get their attention before you start speaking.
•Keep eye contact as you speak. Watch their body language and gestures.
•Talk to them in a quiet place.
•Turn off the TV or radio.
•Keep your voice at a normal level. Don’t raise your voice unless the person asks.
•Keep the words you use simple but adult. Don’t “talk down” to the person.
•Use shorter sentences. Repeat keywords that you want them to understand.
•Slow down your speech.
Give them time to speak. Try not to finish sentences for them.
•Try using drawings, gestures, writing, and facial expressions.
•The person may understand those better than words sometimes.
•Ask them to draw, write, or point when they are having trouble talking.
•Ask “yes” and “no” questions to make it easier for them to respond. Let them make mistakes sometimes. They may not be able to say everything perfectly all the time.
•Let them try to do things for themselves. It may take a few tries. Help when they ask for it.
About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 223,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, assess, and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders. www.asha.org