Home Health & Fitness Aphasia: Can the Cognitive Disease That Forced Bruce Willis to Retire Be Treated With Physiotherapy?

Aphasia: Can the Cognitive Disease That Forced Bruce Willis to Retire Be Treated With Physiotherapy?

by Jayson Smith

According to the Aphasia Institute, there are over 100,000 Canadians living with aphasia today and the National Aphasia Association reported that about 1 million people in the United States currently have aphasia.

But it took one movie star to bring the condition into the spotlight. 

On March 30, the family of Bruce Willis revealed he had a neurological disorder, which can affect a person’s ability to communicate, listen, read and write. The actor best known for his work in the Die Hard film series, Pulp Fiction, and many other movies was to retire from the industry after being diagnosed with aphasia. 

For many people, it was their first time hearing about such a neurological condition, leaving lots of questions unanswered: What is aphasia? What are its symptoms and is it treatable? 

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a neurological disorder that can be caused due to the damage to the brain portions that are responsible for language. Aphasia usually occurs suddenly, because of a stroke or head injury, but it may also develop slowly, as the result of a brain tumor or a progressive neurological disease. The disorder is capable of impairing the communication skills and also the understanding of language as well as other cognitive functions including reading and writing. 

People diagnosed with aphasia find it significantly difficult to communicate with another person. It means that everything related to communication will be difficult, including understanding, talking, and even the ability to express opinions, feelings, emotions, or thoughts could be strenuous. This can lead to devastating effects as our lives revolve and depend on the ability to participate in regular conversations with other people every day. Be it talking to family members or colleagues at work, interaction with one another is the core of human life. And when the neurological disorder takes over our routine lives, it can critically affect every relationship, every role we play and almost every life activity will be at risk. When that happens, a person with aphasia could lose his/her self-esteem and that could lead to profound social isolation. 

Symptoms of Aphasia

People with aphasia find it not only difficult to converse with people but can also have problems understanding what others are saying. This can occur particularly when the individual is in a crowded environment or when he/she is tired. 

Some of the main symptoms of aphasia are:

  • The person will have significant difficulty while speaking
  • He/she will have to put in a lot of effort in finding the right term or word
  • Using unusual or incorrect words in a conversation
  • Extreme challenge in understanding what others are saying
  • Similar to words, their writing will also make no sense 
  • Trouble expressing themselves in words or writing
  • Speaking in rather short sentences or phrases
  • Using strange, completely different words while talking 

What Is Aphasia Physical Therapy?

Physiotherapy or physical therapy is widely accepted in helping patients with neurological conditions that could and often lead to aphasia. 

Physical therapy techniques for aphasia are leveraged to improve a patient’s capability to understand the conversation and to communicate. For this, there are two general categories of physical therapy that physiotherapists implement when treating a patient; they are:

  1. Impairment-based therapy 
  2. Communication-based therapy

1. Impairment-based therapy 

This type of therapy is focused on improving language functions for the person diagnosed with aphasia. The physiotherapist may create a custom procedure based on the patient and these physical therapy procedures will help in stimulating specific listening, speaking, and writing skills for the patient. Impairment-based therapy also consists of different other therapies that the physiotherapist can use and switch between. It includes: 

  • Constraint-Induced Therapy (CIT) 
  • Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT)

Constraint-Induced Therapy (CIT)

With the help of a Constraint-Induced Therapy (CIT), the physiotherapist constrains a patient’s gestures in order to direct them to use their impaired spoken language. By enabling the patients to leverage the broken speech, therapists believe that their impaired language will improve over time.

Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT)

As the name indicates, this therapy has something to do with singing. It is believed that some people who are diagnosed with aphasia can sing better than they can actually speak. Therefore, based on this the physiotherapist encourages the patient to hum during the physical therapy sessions. Following this, the physical therapist will then have the patient sing words or phrases that they find difficult to recall while tapping out a rhythm that goes along with the song. Physiotherapists recommend this physical therapy for aphasia because the section of the brain that recalls music is different from the section that handles spoken language. Therefore, with the help of Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), the physiotherapist teaches the patient an alternative way to recall phrases through singing.

2. Communication-based therapy

The communication-based therapy can be also referred to as the consequence-based therapy. The physical therapist will focus on physiotherapy techniques that can help enhance communication with the patient. In this physiotherapy for aphasia, the therapist leverages certain techniques that consist of natural interactions that could otherwise be real-life communication challenges for the patient. Communication-based therapy also consists of different other therapies that the physiotherapist can use and switch between. It includes: 

  • PACE Therapy
  • Conversation coaching
  • Supported conversation

PACE Therapy (Promoting Aphasics’ Communicative Effectiveness)

PACE Therapy is used to help improve the aphasia patient’s conversational capability. It can be called as a more advanced version of the basic picture-naming practice but physiotherapists also introduce more elements of conversation into this technique. During this procedure, both the physiotherapist and the person diagnosed with aphasia will take turns being the message sender or receiver. 

Conversation Coaching

Conversation coaching is a part of the communication-based therapy that aims to enhance the patient’s communicative confidence with the help of scripted conversations and communication techniques. This strategy can not only help in conversation but also improve the writing skills of patients as well because it is designed to teach both verbal and nonverbal communication. Therefore, a physiotherapist will implement different strategies including drawing, gestures, speaking, confirming information, and also information summary. 

Supported Conversation

This type of therapy focuses on the importance of social interaction, therefore a partner will also be required. Hence, people with aphasia will be asked to interact with trained volunteers or even physiotherapists using scripted or “scaffolded” conversations.


Aphasia can often be a sign of serious health or neurological disorder, therefore before opting for any treatments always make sure to consult with a specialized doctor. Also, ensure that doctors are immediately consulted once you encounter any of the symptoms mentioned in this article. In conclusion, we can say that a person diagnosed with aphasia not only requires treatment or physiotherapy in Whitby, but he/she needs family involvement as well. This is often a crucial component of aphasia treatment because it enables family members to learn the best way to communicate with their loved ones.

Also, it would be great to encourage the patients with aphasia to participate in activities, such as book clubs, social groups, or art and drama clubs. Such interactions and continuous conversations will tremendously help patients regain their confidence and social self-esteem. It will also help in significantly improving their communication and understanding skills as well. 

Author Bio:

Cindy Williams is a blogger in Canada. She graduated with honors from the University of British Columbia with a dual degree in Business Administration and Creative Writing.

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