Bruce Willis Aphasia Diagnosis Misunderstood

April 14, 2022

The speech therapy team here at Siskin Hospital is very familiar with the recent aphasia diagnosis of Bruce Willis.  News outlets around the world have made Bruce out to be incompetent or unintelligent.  This is far from the truth when it comes to aphasia and the brain.  According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage in a specific area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension. Aphasia leaves a person unable to communicate effectively with others.”   Sara Tinter, a speech therapist here at Siskin Hospital, always tells the families of aphasia patients, “They know what to say, they just can’t get it out.”

One of the biggest misconceptions of aphasia in the general public is that it effects cognition – such as memory, thinking and reasoning.  A crew member in one of Bruce Willis’ latest films said, “Someone would give him a line and he didn’t understand what it meant. He was just being puppeted.”   This kind of uniformed judgement can cause those who live with aphasia to feel misunderstood and isolated.  Aphasia alone does not impair the brain’s ability to think.  It only affects the brains ability to communicate clearly and effectively.  Just as a  Siskin Hospital aphasia patient said, “mind is there, just can’t speak.”

Sara Tinter’s experience with aphasia patients at Siskin Hospital gives us a lot of insight into the reality of the disease in the life of a patient and their family.  She said that many patients would like others to know that aphasia is a very isolating disorder.  It can create a lot of anxiety around social situations which, in turn, makes finding words difficult.   With this said, it brings a lot of light to the perception of Bruce Willis on the set of his latest films.  The pressure of performing must have created a lot of anxiety around being able to get out the words on the script.   Sara reminds us that “a person with aphasia communicates best when in a natural or comfortable environment.”

What can we take away from Bruce Willis’ recent diagnosis?  Be careful what you read about health conditions via the media.  This kind of misinformation can be very unhelpful to those who live with aphasia every single day.  Stay curious and find experts, like Sara, who can give you the correct information.  We are grateful to be a part of the lives of many of those who have been diagnosed with aphasia in the Chattanooga community.  And will continue to offer hope and healing to all.