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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

What is Aphasia?

Tony Tone
Tony Tone has worked as a radio personality in Muscatine and the Quad Cities since 2006. He currently serves as Muscatine Community School District Communication and Community Outreach Director and writes Talk of the Town with Tony Tone for the Discover Muscatine newspaper.

Muscatine Living

I can tell you exactly where I was when my Grandpa Bill McCarthy (my mom’s dad) had his first stroke. I was a freshman in high school playing basketball at my friend Jack Arnold’s house. My mom picked me up in haste, and we raced to the hospital in my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois.

On the ride over, I was trying to process what it meant for someone to have a stroke. I was 14-years-old, and this would have been the first immediate family member I knew of having one. Upon arriving at West Suburban Hospital, we walked into the room my grandfather was in. He looked right at me and called my name, “Anthony!”

At that moment, I didn’t think the stroke had really impacted Grandpa; I was wrong. Over the next few years, Grandpa Bill would suffer several more strokes and be diagnosed with having aphasia. Aphasia is the inability to comprehend or formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions, with the primary cause being stroke or head trauma. What that meant for Grandpa Bill was that he would ask for things but not use the correct name. For instance, during dinner, I recall him asking someone to pass him, “the hammer,” but he meant salt. Aphasia was incredibly frustrating for him because he knew what he was trying to say, but the right words wouldn’t come out.

There are three different types of aphasia, Broca’s aphasia, Wernicke’s aphasia, and global aphasia. Broca’s leads folks to feel frustrated because they can’t turn their thoughts into words. Wernicke’s aphasia makes the person’s speech nearly impossible to understand even though they think their intended audience should understand them. Global aphasia happens when damage in the brain is so widespread that it involves both Broca’s and Wernicke’s. Without knowing 100% for certain, I would say that my grandpa had Broca’s aphasia.

We lost Grandpa Bill in the summer of 2004; he was only 77-years-old. As I progressed in college at St. Ambrose, I took a speech class my junior year and learned a lot about aphasia, so much so that my final presentation for the class was on the subject. I had even reached out to the local Genesis hospital and had their stroke and aphasia team join the class and participate in my presentation.

Last week, the actor Bruce Willis announced his retirement from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia. That news hit me a lot harder than I thought it would have and brought back all the memories of my grandpa.

Unsurprisingly, one of the comments on the article I was reading about Bruce was negative. Here’s the thing, can we not be cruel to anyone dealing with stuff like aphasia? My heart goes out to Bruce and his family during this challenging time. Those reading this who may have a loved one battling aphasia, know that you’re not alone and that the person loves and appreciates you, even if they can’t correctly say it.

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