When speaking is no longer possible: Bruce Willis stops acting because of this language disorder

67-year-old Bruce Willis was recently diagnosed with aphasia, his family announced yesterday. Because of the aphasia, the star, who is known from the Die Hard films, among other things, can no longer act.

“Aphasia is a speech and language disorder that arises from a disorder in the brain, such as an infarction or bleeding,” explains neuropsychology professor Erik Scherder.

“Aphasia is an invisible condition, but you notice it when you talk to someone,” says Andreas Tober of the Brain Foundation. “People with aphasia don’t come up with the right words, or need more time to understand what you’re saying.”

No difference between ‘pear’ and ‘bear’

All forms of language processing can be affected in aphasia: talking and listening, but also reading and writing. In some cases you can confuse letters, and you can no longer understand the difference between ‘pear’ and ‘bear’, says Scherder. But in other patients the consequences are much more severe.

Scherder: “Then you can no longer say that you are hungry or in pain. I know a patient who can no longer even say his own name. But he still understands a lot, about 80 percent, and can use an iPad he can form sentences. He just can’t pronounce them anymore.”

It is not clear what exactly is going on with Bruce Willis. The statement from Willis’s family only states that the condition “impacts his mental abilities.”


For people dealing with aphasia, the condition is extremely frustrating, Scherder says. “They can become isolated because they notice that others don’t understand them anymore. It’s important to have a lot of understanding for people with aphasia.”

“That misunderstanding is very annoying,” says Tober of the Brain Foundation. “People find it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of someone with aphasia. They think they don’t understand, or they start talking very childishly. But with aphasia you’re still an adult, and you can still function. It’s just a bit more difficult .”

Evelien (26) can no longer speak well after a stroke

Last year EditieNL spoke with 26-year-old Evelien, who developed aphasia after a cerebral infarction. At first she could only say yes and no.

Evelien said: “After one or two years I was able to say some more and now I can talk, although I am not satisfied with how I can communicate at the moment. But it will never change. I will always have to live with aphasia and disability.”

Read the entire interview here.

Knowledge platform AfasieNet gives tips to better understand each other: for example by speaking calmly and in short sentences, using gestures and asking questions that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Sometimes you can sing

There are tools for people with aphasia, such as apps or picture guides. Also thanks to speech therapy, some patients manage to regain some of their speech. “But that trainability has a ceiling,” says Scherder

Sometimes communication is – literally – in a different corner. The language system, which is damaged in aphasia, is mainly in the left half of your brain, says Scherder. “On the other side of the brain are systems that are creative and musical. Sometimes patients suddenly succeed in singing what they want to make clear, while they can no longer speak.”

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