What is Aphasia?

Recently, news came out that Hollywood actor, Bruce Willis, was diagnosed with Aphasia and will retire from acting.  We all know Bruce from hit movies like Die Hard, Armageddon, Sixth Sense and Pulp Fiction.  A great action actor with a large, loving, famous family; impacted  by something so human as aging.  Aphasia is a brain disorder or condition that impacts a person’s ability to speak, understand words, read and write.

* Image courtesy: Jason Kempin, Getty Images

In the U.S., aphasia affects approximately 2 million people.  In Canada, 100,000 people live with aphasia.  This neurological condition is very isolating and can rob you of the simple joy of communication.  While no details were released as to Willis’ cause of aphasia, one of the main causes of aphasia is stroke.  About 30% of stroke survivors will experience aphasia as a side effect.

Not only can aphasia be isolating, it is a frustrating condition for the sufferer and the caregiver. Imagine a working mind with lots of opinions, ideas, experience, and none of this can be expressed verbally or in the written word.

Speech-language pathologists are utilised for aphasia assessment. Based on the assessment, they will provide speech and language therapy geared towards the person’s specific needs.  Some aphasia sufferers may benefit from using a tech gadget or a special computer program to communicate, and they can be trained with techniques that can be used to help communicate in a social setting.

Speech-language pathologists also provide training to family, friends and caregivers to become more effective at communication with the person with aphasia.  Here are some  tips for better communication with people with aphasia:

  • Reduce or eliminate background noise while communicating.
  • Get the person’s attention before you start speaking.
  • Keep your language simple, but appropriate for an adult.
  • Speak slowly and clearly using your normal voice.
  • Give the person with aphasia time to speak. Don’t interrupt.
  • Keep a pen and paper handy.
  • Use drawing or gestures to help with communication.
  • Print the main key works of your message to help with communication.
  • Ask questions that need a yes or no answer.

Having a supportive family and network to help aphasia sufferers through is just as important as having a great medical team.  Understanding that frustrations will arise, understanding that there will be fear, and tears, are all essential in getting through the initial diagnosis of aphasia.  Thankfully, Bruce Willis has a large, supportive family, which includes his children, his wife and his ex-wife.  Along with his withdrawal from the acting arena, he now has time to focus on his well-being and health, and rely and thrive on the strength of his family and friends.

Courtesy: Instagram – Demi Moore

Speech-Language & Audiology Canada are a group of speech-language pathologists and audiologists.  Speech-Language pathologists are instrumental in helping survivors of stroke with speech, memory, voice and swallowing issues.  Other causes of disorders such as head trauma, effects of medication, psychiatric disorders and tumours are also areas that speech-language pathologists can help with.  Audiologists can help with hearing loss, tinnitus, balance and auditory disorders; which can be caused by ageing, noise exposure, medication and head injuries.  Check out their website on more information about how this group can help seniors with their communication abilities.

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