What is aphasia? Bruce Willis’s daughter says family thought he had ‘Hollywood hearing loss’

Tallulah Willis, the daughter of Bruce and Demi Moore, said the condition started out with "a kind of vague unresponsiveness".

Bruce Willis' was diagnosed with aphasia in early 2022.
Bruce Willis's family revealed his aphasia diagnosis in early 2022. (Getty Images)

Tallulah Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, has said that her family initially thought her father’s aphasia was “Hollywood hearing loss”. The family announced the Die Hard star’s diagnosis in early 2022.

“We learned earlier this year that that symptom was a feature of frontotemporal dementia, a progressive neurological disorder that chips away at his cognition and behaviour day by day,” Tallulah, 29, wrote in an essay for Vogue.

Tallulah, the youngest of three daughters Willis shares with Moore, added that she’s known something was wrong “for a long time”.

“It started out with a kind of vague unresponsiveness, which the family chalked up to Hollywood hearing loss,” she continued. “Later that unresponsiveness broadened, and I sometimes took it personally.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 23: (L-R) Rumer Willis, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Scout Willis, Emma Heming Willis and Tallulah Willis attend Demi Moore's 'Inside Out' Book Party on September 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for goop)
(L-R) Rumer Willis, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Scout Willis, Emma Heming Willis and Tallulah Willis. (Getty Images)

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a condition that impacts a person’s language or speech skills. The charity Say Aphasia says the condition affects around 350,000 people in the UK.

However, the condition isn't widely known and can contribute to the loneliness that aphasia sufferers experience.

Aphasia symptoms

People with aphasia often have trouble with the four main ways people understand and use language. These are:

  • reading

  • listening

  • speaking

  • typing or writing

Most noticeably, those with the condition may have problems with speech, such as making mistakes with the words they use, either using the wrong sounds in a word, choosing the wrong word or getting them muddled up.

Symptoms can range from mixing up a few words to having trouble with all forms of communication. This can lead to frustration as some people living with the condition are unaware that their speech doesn't make sense. The condition can impact relationships, employment, education, social lives and confidence.

However, although aphasia impacts a person's ability to communicate, it doesn't affect their intelligence.

Aphasia causes

According to the NHS, aphasia is usually caused by damage to the left side of the brain - the part responsible for understanding an producing language. The most common cause of aphasia is a stroke, but other causes include severe head injury, a brain injury or progressive neurological conditions, like dementia.

Aphasia can occur by itself or alongside other disorders, such as visual difficulties, mobility problems, limb weakness, and problems with memory or thinking skills, according to the NHS.

There are also different types of aphasia, classed as 'receptive' or 'expressive', relating to whether your issues are with understanding or expressing language – people with the condition can also have problems with both.

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2019/10/11: Bruce Willis and Emma Heming Willis wearing dress by Bottega Veneta attend Motherless Brooklyn premiere during 57th New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Bruce Willis and wife Emma Heming Willis in 2019. (Getty Images)

Who is most at risk of aphasia?

While aphasia can affect people of all ages, it is most common in people over the age of 65. This is because strokes and progressive neurological conditions tend to affect older adults.

Treatment for aphasia

Speech and language therapy is the main type of treatment for people with aphasia. This aims to help restore some of their ability to communicate, and help those with the condition develop alternative ways of communicating, if necessary.

How successful treatment is differs from person to person with most people with aphasia making some degree of recovery, and some recovering fully.

Help with aphasia

  • The charity, Say Aphasia, has some advice for communicating with someone with the condition including slowing your sentences down, being patient, being concise and using short sentences

  • For information on how to help people with aphasia, visit the website, call 44 (0)7796 143118 or email colin@sayaphasia.org

  • For further tips visit The National Aphasia Association

  • If you're concerned about someone with aphasia, the NHS recommends encouraging them to discuss any problems with their GP or a member of their care team to access the relevant help

Aphasia: Read more

Watch: Bruce Willis's wife will 'never lose hope' to find a cure for his dementia