What is aphasia?

On Wednesday, the family of legendary actor Bruce Willis announced on social media that he is "stepping away" from his decades long career following recent health problems.

At the center of the "Die Hard" star's retirement is the condition known as aphasia, which his family said is "impacting his cognitive abilities."

But what exactly is aphasia? How does it affect cognitive abilities, and what causes it?

The word "aphasia" is Greek and roughly translates to "without speech," which is essentially what the condition is.

According to the Mayo Clinic: Aphasia is a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate. It can affect your ability to speak, write and understand language, both verbal and written.

Approximately 1 million people in the United States have aphasia, and about 180,000 develop it each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.

There are varying types and severity of aphasia, but they typically fall into three types:

Expressive aphasia, comprehensive aphasia (also known as receptive, fluent or Wernicke's aphasia), and global aphasia.

As Ohio State neuropsychologist Tracy Shannon explains, expressive aphasia is almost like tip-of-the-tongue syndrome times a thousand.

In other words, the person often knows exactly what they want to say, but they have difficulty finding the words to express themselves. 


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Next: Bruce Willis, diagnosed with aphasia.