Apprendre l’aphasie, la maladie neurologique dont souffre Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis 2018

Bruce Willis prend la parole lors du Comic-Con international de San Diego 2018, à San Diego, en Californie. Crédit : Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Bruce Willis – connu pour sa carrière iconique dans des films comme “Die Hard”, “Armageddon” et “Pulp Fiction” – va prendre sa retraite après avoir été diagnostiqué aphasique, une maladie qui entraîne une perte de la capacité à communiquer verbalement et par écrit.

Sa famille a révélé la nouvelle le 30 mars sur Instagram.

Les professeurs de Northwestern ont passé des années à étudier l’aphasie et à aider à améliorer la qualité de vie des patients. Northwestern Now a parlé à plusieurs de ces experts des symptômes de l’aphasie, des traitements et de la façon dont les proches peuvent communiquer avec un patient.

Qu’est-ce que l’aphasie ?

“L’aphasie est un trouble du langage dans l’expression ou la compréhension qui est dû à une lésion ou une maladie du cerveau”, a déclaré le Dr. Borna Bonakdarpour, professeur adjoint de neurologie comportementale à Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Bonakdarpour is also a member of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Feinberg. “It can be caused by different diseases, the most common cause in the U.S. is stroke, in which people have an acute onset of loss of ability to express or comprehend language.”

What’s the difference between sudden onset aphasia and primary progressive aphasia (PPA)?

“Primary progression aphasia (PPA) is usually caused by Alzheimer’s disease or frontal temporal degeneration,” Bonakdarpour said. “These individuals can have trouble expressing themselves like they can after a stroke. Or they may talk very fluently but don’t understand others.”

“It is important to differentiate between primary progressive aphasia and the other types of aphasias that occur suddenly, such as after a stroke,” said Leora Cherney, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, jointly appointed at Feinberg and the School of Communication.

“People with primary progressive aphasia experience worsening language impairment as cognitive deficits begin to emerge and progress,” Cherney said. “Those with sudden onset aphasia can expect to improve their language skills over time and with speech and language therapy. Therefore, there will be differences in the best approaches to treatment and the long-term management of these disorders.”

“Aphasia really needs a spotlight, and this gives us an opportunity to talk about it,” Bonakdarpour added.

Can aphasia be treated?

“With the more sudden onset aphasia due to an event such as stroke, speech therapy helps individuals to improve language,” said Aaron Wilkins, assistant clinical professor and speech pathologist in the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in Northwestern’s School of Communication. “In the case of a slow developing, progressively worsening aphasia, speech therapy assists individuals to learn compensations to communicate differently from traditional communication that is slowly being lost,” he said.

“Speech and language therapy not only helps people with aphasia improve the ability to communicate, it also impacts brain processing,” said Cynthia Thompson, the Ralph and Jean Sundin Professor of Communication Sciences in the School of Communication. “The brain is an organ of plasticity and has the capacity to change throughout the lifespan. Known as experience-based plasticity, the brain forms new pathways that are directly associated with experience — in the case of aphasia: language treatment.”

How can it impact quality of life?

“Importantly, aphasia is not an intellectual or mental disorder,” said Thompson. “People with aphasia are able to perform many functional activities that do not rely on language. However, because language is required for daily tasks such as talking on the phone and conversing with friends, and it is needed in many types of jobs, aphasia often results in social isolation, job loss and reduced quality of life. For an actor, like Bruce Willis, language is essential; thus having aphasia will unfortunately impact the ability to perform.”

How can you communicate with someone who has aphasia?

“Friends and family members can help,” Bonakdarpour said. “But some people don’t get it, so they talk over the patient and the patient gets sad. They might just process more slowly. So it’s important for people around them to speak slowly and give them the time to talk. Sometimes the patient just wants the challenge to come up with the words themselves, so we encourage friends and family to ask them if they want help.”

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