These Are the Signs of the Condition That’s Making Bruce Willis Retire

Bruce Willis is one of the most iconic movie stars and action heroes of all…

Bruce Willis is one of the most iconic movie stars and action heroes of all time. While best known for his role as John McClane in the Die Hard series, the actor also earned acclaim for roles in films like Pulp Fiction12 Monkeys, and The Sixth Sense. Now 67, Willis is stepping away from his acting career after being diagnosed with a serious cognitive condition. Read on to learn more about the symptoms and prognosis of aphasia, and why Willis has been forced to retire.

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Bruce Willis at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012
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In an Instagram post on March 30, Rumer Willis—the daughter of Bruce Willis and actor Demi Moore—posted an update on her father’s health and career. “To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” Rumer wrote. “As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”

While the post does not include further details on Willis’ health or prognosis, it goes on to say, “This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support. We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him.”

The statement is credited to the entire Willis-Moore family: Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel, and Evelyn.

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older woman looking confused while another person speaks to her
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So, what is aphasia? According to the Cleveland Clinic, aphasia is a disorder that inhibits the brain’s ability to process language, meaning the person suffering from the condition often has trouble speaking and understanding other people’s speech. That being said, aphasia can manifest in a number of different ways, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

Per the Cleveland Clinic, “Some people with aphasia have difficulty in only one area of communication, such as trouble putting words together into meaningful sentences, trouble reading, or difficulty understanding what others are saying. More commonly, people with aphasia are limited in more than one communication area. Nearly all patients with aphasia have word-finding difficulties—that is, coming up with the correct name of persons, places, things, or events.”

The Mayo Clinic provides a list of the signs of aphasia to look out for on its website. A person with aphasia might “speak in short or incomplete sentences, speak in sentences that don’t make sense, substitute one word for another or one sound for another, speak unrecognizable words, not understand other people’s conversation, [and] write sentences that don’t make sense.”

More specifically, the Cleveland Clinic notes there are subtler symptoms to look out for, such as mixing up sounds for words (they use the example of “wog dalker” instead of “dog walker”) and leaving out small articles and prepositions (like “the” and “and”) when speaking.

older man sitting on a chair and looking sad and confused
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As the Cleveland Clinic explains, aphasia is typically brought on by a stroke. Per the American Stroke Association, aphasia is “most often caused by strokes in the left side of the brain that control speech and language.” Aphasia is often regarded as one of the first signs of a stroke, and according to WebMD, one in three people have trouble with language after having a stroke.

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Aphasia can also be caused by a head injury, the Cleveland Clinic notes, or as the result of cognitive decline from a brain tumor, brain surgery, or a neurological disorder like dementia. A 2018 study published in the journal Materia Sociomedica found that, “Language difficulties are a major problem for most patients with dementia, especially as the disease progresses and goes from moderate to severe stage. Early signs that communication of a person with dementia is affected are the difficulties of word finding, especially when naming people or objects.”

The Alzheimer’s Society says the condition often manifests in patients putting words in the wrong order or using words that don’t make sense, which are typical forms of aphasia.

The Willis family has not said what caused Bruce Willis’ aphasia, only that the condition is now “impacting his cognitive abilities.”

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bruce willis on the red carpet
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Recovery from aphasia depends on a number of factors, including the cause of the condition. As language technology company Lingraphica explains, “Every person is different. Some people will have a complete recovery. Some people mostly recover, but still find it hard to think of the right word sometimes. Others will always have aphasia but can continue to improve. The good news is that people can continue getting better for years after they get aphasia.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the prognosis for recovery from aphasia has a lot to do with the cause and extent of the brain injury, along with the patient’s age and health in general. If the aphasia is caused by a stroke—as is most often the case—”sometimes language abilities return to normal within hours or days,” but others suffer from language difficulties of varying degrees for the rest of their lives.

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Unfortunately, if the aphasia is caused by a neurological condition like dementia, the condition will never improve. “Language and communication skills will continue to decline over time,” the Cleveland Clinic says. “There is no cure for dementia. Currently approved medications only slow the progression of symptoms.”

bruce willis
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There was an instant outpouring of support for Willis after the announcement of his aphasia diagnosis. In the comments of Demi Moore’s Instagram post sharing the news—the same statement posted by Rumer Willis—Jamie Lee Curtis wrote, “Grace and guts! Love to you all!” Cindy Crawford posted a prayer hands emoji, while Busy Philipps shared a heart.

But one of the most meaningful responses came on Twitter. Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords retweeted the news of Willis’ diagnosis and wrote, “I’m thinking of Bruce Willis and his family today. Aphasia makes it hard for me to find the right words. It can be lonely and isolating, but @FriendsAphasia is trying to change that. To everyone living with aphasia, I’m here for you. We got this.”

Giffords’ aphasia stems from the severe brain trauma she endured when she was shot in the head in a 2011 assassination attempt. She co-founded Friends of Aphasia, and her bio on the site notes, “She has first-hand experience with the struggles of aphasia and is determined to help others live successfully with this disorder.” The charitable organization’s mission statement says that it “strives to enhance the lives of those living with aphasia, including individuals who have aphasia, their families, and their community, through efforts to support the following.”

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