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.”
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.
People with aphasia often have trouble with the four main ways people understand and use language. These are:
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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
Tallulah Willis on Grief, Healing, and the Road Ahead - Vogue, 12-min read
I’m an aphasia expert. This is what you need to know about Bruce Willis’ condition - Independent, 4-min read
Aphasia: From Bruce Willis to Emilia Clarke, celebrities who've battled the same devastating condition - Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read
Like Bruce Willis, I Have Aphasia. Here's What Life Is Like With This Incurable Disorder - HuffPost, 7-min read
Watch: Bruce Willis's wife will 'never lose hope' to find a cure for his dementia