Bruce Willis’s news about his aphasia diagnosis stunned the world today and left many asking: “What is aphasia?”


In 2016, the NAA conducted a survey to discover how much the general public knew about aphasia. Only 8.8% of respondents knew what aphasia was and correctly identified it as a language disorder. That means that the other 91.2% may be struggling to understand Bruce Willis’s aphasia announcement.

What Is Aphasia?

It’s an acquired communication disorder, which means that it’s something that happens during the course of life instead of being present from birth. It affects the person’s ability to process language but does not affect intelligence.


Aphasia is caused by a brain injury such as stroke or head trauma or, in the case of primary progressive aphasia (PPA), brain tissue deterioration. Most forms of aphasia come on suddenly due to the injury. The neurological form of aphasia (PPA), comes on slowly and worsens over months or years. You can learn more about the various forms of aphasia on our site.


Aphasia presents differently depending on the type or severity. In a mild form, you may not be able to tell the person is having difficulty forming words, and in other cases, it is immediately apparent that the person is having trouble using language. It affects speech, understanding, writing, and reading differently.


A person with aphasia may have difficulty producing words, but their intelligence is intact. Their ideas, thoughts, and knowledge are still in their head — it’s just communicating those ideas, thoughts, and knowledge that is interrupted.

How Do You Communicate With Someone Who Has Aphasia?

Some people with aphasia have difficulty taking in messages. They have trouble understanding what other people are saying or what they’re reading. Other people with aphasia have difficulty producing messages. Saying the correct word, remembering how to say what they want to say, getting started speaking, or writing may be impaired. Aphasia can affect speaking, understanding, writing, and reading.


Aphasia can be isolating. Imagine not being able to easily convey your thoughts to your friends and family. Imagine not being able to understand what they’re saying to you. But aphasia doesn’t have to be isolating. In fact, it can go a long way for a person with aphasia to know that you’re trying to help them to communicate and remain part of the conversation.

Help friends and family understand that the old ways of communicating may not work, and they’ll need to adjust to keep the person part of the conversation.


Here are two guides with concrete tips about aphasia-friendly communication.


Aphasia-Friendly Communication, Part One

Aphasia-Friendly Communication, Part Two


Our hearts go out to the Willis family, and we know their close-knit, supportive nature will help them navigate aphasia in the coming days. We are here for the Willis family as well as all people with aphasia.


View our official statement


Image: Gage Skidmore  from Peoria, AZ, United States of America