By Prof Tissa Wijeratne 

The brain disorder aphasia has sidelined actor Bruce Willis and drawn attention to a little-known condition that is relatively common globally, with about 1 out of every 250 people suffering from it.

Aphasia is a language disorder. It affects one’s ability to understand or produce language, or both. Aphasia is caused by damage to part of the brain (usually on the left side) that controls language. The disorder can manifest abruptly or slowly, depending on the underlying primary brain disorder.

The most common cause of aphasia is stroke. Each year stroke affects 16 million people globally. About 38% of stroke sufferers develop aphasia. Other reasons include dementia, head injuries or brain infections.

There is a broad spectrum of aphasia in terms of how severely someone’s ability to communicate (speaking, reading, writing, texting, drawing, repeating, naming etc.) may or may not be affected by the specific underlying disorder.

Acute aphasia generally does not affect one’s intellect. Still, it can cause frustration for the sufferer as they may know what to say yet be unable to express themselves or have difficulties comprehending spoken or written language.

The brain has remarkable plasticity and can re-shape and re-learn after acute damage. The majority of people with aphasia see improvement with neurorehabilitation and speech therapy.

Learn more about brain disorders and brain health by visiting the World Brain Day page.