Bruce Willis’ aphasia diagnosis puts spotlight on research and support in Pittsburgh – CBS Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Bruce Willis is retiring from acting after being diagnosed with a speech disorder called aphasia. Willis’ diagnosis raises awareness of research and resources in the city of Pittsburgh.

Willis’ retirement from his career came as sad news in Hollywood on Wednesday. Willis’ family said in a post on his daughter Rumor’s Instagram that Willis, 67, has had some health issues and was recently diagnosed with aphasia.

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“Aphasia can affect the ability to speak, understand language, read, or write,” said Dr. Will Evans, University of Pittsburgh Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders.

Evans has conducted aphasia rehabilitation research at the University of Pittsburgh. He said the most common cause of aphasia is stroke; other causes include head injuries, brain tumors, or dementia.

“If something happens to the brain and affects the core language system, they end up being diagnosed with aphasia, and that can be really devastating. Imagine you knew exactly what you wanted to say and couldn’t get it out. It can be really frustrating and people can get really isolated,” Evans said.

Evans said that in addition to impairing a person’s ability to communicate, aphasia can create a sense of isolation and lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

What led to 67-year-old Willis developing the speech disorder is unknown. His family said it affects his cognitive abilities.

“It can be really difficult and so thoughts and support just go out to what Bruce Willis and his family are going through right now,” Evans said.

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Willis’ career spans decades. He is best known for his starring role in the Die Hard movies. Pittsburghers certainly remember his 1993 film Striking Distance in Steel City and by the Three Rivers. In the film, Willis played a homicide detective who is demoted to the River Rescue team while investigating a serial killer.

Action movies may not be in Willis’ future, but Evans says there are treatments and hope for people diagnosed with aphasia. He said there are behavioral treatments, intensive speech therapy and support groups.

“I know people in the aphasia community, life goes on. When the people we see see support – when they recognize and accept and deal with what is happening to them, beautiful life can follow, people supporting each other and fighting isolation,” he said.

“Locally, I’m part of a translational aphasia research initiative in Pittsburgh that brings together some of my colleagues here in Pitt and the Pittsburgh VA, and we have a new aphasia support group so there are free resources available here in the community. If you know someone who has aphasia and is feeling isolated, there are resources available locally for them,” he said.

If you are interested in Pitt’s new free aphasia support group locally, please contact

Evans said his lab also has active aphasia treatment studies underway, aimed at improving language and addressing the emotional impact of living with aphasia. Find out more information here or contact

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Other resources include the National Aphasia Association and Aphasia Recovery Link. Bruce Willis’ aphasia diagnosis puts spotlight on research and support in Pittsburgh – CBS Pittsburgh


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