Bruce Willis has stepped away from acting after a diagnosis of aphasia — a form of cognitive impairment sometimes caused by frontotemporal dementia.
Bruce Willis’s eldest daughter, Rumer Willis, announced this week that the Hollywood actor is struggling with a language disorder called aphasia and will be stepping back from acting.
“To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” his family wrote. “As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”
Aphasia can be caused by damage to the brain through stroke or a number of other conditions. It affects a person’s ability to speak, write, or form words. Or, it may lead to an introduction pauses into their speech. Eventually, aphasia progresses to affect a person’s memory and other cognitive functions.
Two variants of progressive form of aphasia called Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) can be caused by frontotemporal dementia, which affects an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people in the United States. Meanwhile, another variant of PPA — the logopenic variant — is often caused by underlying Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that with Alzheimer’s, memory loss is often the first symptom that appears. With FTD, people usually experience behavioral and language changes first. In addition, people with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty recalling names, but usually don’t have serious problems with speech until later stages.
In the early stages of FTD, someone may be difficult to understand or have trouble reading. As Alzheimer’s progresses, hallucinations become more common, though they are not as common in FTD. Symptoms include limited judgement, socially inappropriate behavior, constant mood changes, loss of language abilities and empathy, as well as issues with balance and movement.
It isn’t certain at this time whether Willis’s aphasia falls under the umbrella of frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer’s, or something else altogether. If a loved one has symptoms of FTD, an accurate diagnosis may take visits to multiple specialists.
Willis’s career started in the 1980s playing Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting, but he is most famous for playing John McClane in the 1988 movie Die Hard. Spanning the decades, he became one of Hollywood’s best leading action stars responsible for many other box office successes.
“This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support,” his family said in their statement. “We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him.”
CORRECTION: Friday April 1, 4:37 P.M. ET This article was updated to note that the logopenic variant of PPA may be caused by underlying Alzheimer’s. A previous version of this article attributed causes of PPA primarily to FTD and stroke.