Aphasia creates neural roadblock to communication

A disorder that can impact a person's ability to speak or understand language is receiving attention this week, following reports that Bruce Willis is retiring from acting following a recent aphasia diagnosis.

"Aphasia means that there's been a change in a person's ability to communicate because of a problem with the language system in their brain," said Dr. Kimiko Domoto-Reilly, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Domoto-Reilly says aphasia can be caused by an injury that impacts the brain, including pressure from a tumor or following a stroke. The condition can also develop during Alzheimer's disease. 

There's a neurodegenerative variant of the condition called primary progressive aphasia, in which mild symptoms develop despite no apparent injury and gradually worsen. Domoto-Reilly is a principal investigator of a national study created to better understand the disorder.

"Some people that I've worked with who have aphasia have told me that it can be terribly isolating," she said. "A lot of the time, we take for granted the easy back and forth of speaking with one another, writing to one another, and how meaningful words are for us as social beings."

Access broadcast-ready video assets on aphasia.

UW Medicine