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Your Healthy Family: Many cases of aphasia can be improved - but not all

Posted at 1:26 PM, Apr 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 15:26:07-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — In this Your Healthy Family, not much is known publicly about Bruce Willis’ aphasia diagnosis – the cause or how long it has affected him – although a piece in the Los Angeles Times reported there have been concerns about his decline from those working on film sets with him for a couple of years.

I spoke with UCHealth neurologist Dr. Andrea Manhart to learn more about aphasia. Broadly speaking, she says the type of aphasia that comes on slowly over time generally is the type of aphasia that people, and their loved ones, have to learn to live with.

Aphasia is a neurological condition that affects someone’s ability to communicate and is most commonly seen when someone suffers a stroke. In this case the aphasia will come on suddenly.

Depending on how severe and quickly a stroke is resolved, the chances are good that the amazing organ that is the human brain can recover someone’s ability to communicate with the help of a speech therapist.

“We have wonderful speech therapists that can work with patients and they can help with language disorders. Ninety-five percent of people are right-handed and left-brain language dominant, and seventy percent of left-handed patients are left-language brain dominant. So when you do have some type of brain injury, there is a language perspective on both sides of the brain, but typically in most patients it’s left-sided but over time when you have a stroke in that area, the right side of that area will start to take over the function for speech, so therapy is very important.”

As Dr. Manhart explained in our last story, aphasia is the result of something else happening in the brain. In some cases, it comes on gradually over time but in the majority of cases, aphasia can come on suddenly. Either way it can lead to someone’s speech not making sense.

“Broca’s aphasia with expressive aphasia is almost like a word salad. The sentences do not make sense and there are subsets of other types of aphasia where we insert the wrong word into the sentence. ‘(Instead of) ‘I went to the beach, it’s ‘I went to the cat.’ Patients will be thinking ‘beach’ but they will put in the wrong word.”

It’s such an important reminder that if you or someone else starts to have trouble with their speech all of the sudden, you should be seen by a doctor right away. Remember the warning signs of a stroke are BE FAST. If you’re having trouble with your balance, eye sight, facial drooping, arm weakness and trouble with speech and confusion… it’s time to call 9-1-1 because when it comes to a positive outcome from a stroke, time is brain.

If those problems with speech are coming on slowly over time, don’t ignore it. Dr. Manhart says,

“I recommend following up with your family doctors. If you ever have a language issue bring it up with them. If it’s an acute issue, go to the emergency room.”