People pay attention when a celebrity has been diagnosed with dementia. Earlier this month, we learned that Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. This diagnosis did not surprise me since last year Bruce stepped away from acting because of aphasia.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, aphasia affects speech and the ability to read or write. Communication skills are necessary in almost all aspects of employment, and would be essential to read movie scripts and to deliver the lines with conviction.
In 2020, the directors of a Bruce Willis action film cut his dialogue by five pages and removed all monologs. His inability to remember his dialogue resulted in someone feeding Bruce lines through an earpiece.
One of Jim’s first noticeable symptoms of dementia was aphasia. He could still speak words, but his sentences were vague and often required interpretation. I had to take cues from his actions. He often said the opposite of what he meant. For example, he might say he was hot, but would be shivering from cold. Jim began to speak in repetitive phrases: “Right here, but I can’t find it” or “I have no idea” were two of his favorites. As his dementia progressed, Jim became mostly silent and seldom spoke.
One of the saddest losses for me was the intimate conversations that Jim and I had always enjoyed. We shared our deepest thoughts, hopes, beliefs, and dreams with each other. The best part of waking up was a cup of coffee and conversation.
Our quiet time was when we settled down for the night. Jim was an avid reader, and he and I both read at bedtime. After he read every Louis L’Amour novel, we made weekly trips to the bookstore so that he could add to his collection of Star Trek books. Jim continued to turn the pages of his books, but I noticed that he began to buy duplicate books. I realized that he was not able to follow the storyline and would pick up a different copy of the book he had “read” the week before. It was the same with TV shows. He couldn’t follow the plot of a TV show.
Aphasia is caused when a loss of blood flow causes brain cell death or damage in the part of the brain that controls language. Although Jim’s and Bruce Willis’ aphasia was brought on by dementia, the most common cause of aphasia is from a stroke.
I believe that Jim’s aphasia was global, which caused severe difficulty with his ability to speak or comprehend language. He had trouble understanding as well as speaking. I used a lot of gestures and pointing to reinforce what I was saying. I learned to use simple sentences and never offer more than one instruction at a time. If I ever gave more than one instruction, he would only react to the second.
Jim understood body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions much more than the spoken words. Of course, the best communication of all was the touch of a hand, words of love, and smiles…lots of smiles.
Copyright © February 2023 by L.S. Fisher