What is aphasia, the condition affecting Wendy Williams?

Overlapping photos of Bruce Willis and Wendy Williams. Text repeats the title, which refers to Wendy Williams’ illness diagnosis. The Spoken AAC logo is placed at the bottom.

What happened to Wendy Williams?

Former talk show host Wendy Williams has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia according to a statement released on February 22. If aphasia sounds familiar, it’s the same condition Bruce Willis was diagnosed with in 2022.

Wendy Williams’ health diagnosis of aphasia has raised a few questions:

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a category of communication disorders, each with unique challenges and characteristics. Primary progressive aphasia in particular is characterized by its gradual onset and progressive nature, often linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

Aphasia can interfere with both spoken and written forms of communication. Individuals affected by aphasia may find themselves unable to convey their thoughts coherently, leading to speech that seems nonsensical or disconnected. The struggle to find appropriate words is common, marked by a frustrating and distressing tip-of-the-tongue feeling. Aphasia can also compromise the ability to understand language, making it difficult to follow conversations or read.

Despite the significant obstacles posed by aphasia, the condition’s impact can vary significantly among individuals. In some cases, it may be temporary or at least manageable, especially with the right support and therapy. These interventions aim to bolster language abilities and adapt communication strategies, fostering a better quality of life. Unfortunately, for those like Williams and Willis, their condition is unlikely to improve since it stems from the progression of dementia.

Is aphasia dementia?

If you’re wondering, “Are aphasia and dementia the same thing?”, the answer is no. While aphasia is not synonymous with dementia, it’s understandable to question their relationship given their association with cognitive and communicative impairments. Aphasia primarily refers to a spectrum of disorders affecting language capabilities, such as speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. It can manifest independently of cognitive decline, with strokes being one of the most common causes. For instance, US Senator John Fetterman developed aphasia following a stroke, illustrating how it can occur in the absence of dementia.

Conversely, dementia is a type of neurological deterioration that can result in various symptoms like memory loss, problem-solving issues, and changes in mood or behavior. Primary progressive aphasia is just one of many possible symptoms that can stem from dementia.

Which celebrities have had aphasia?

Besides Wendy Williams and Bruce Willis, other celebrities who have dealt with aphasia include Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, Parks and Recreation actress Aubrey Plaza, and Hollywood icon Sharon Stone. Stone and Plaza were both victims of stroke, while Clarke’s aphasia was caused by a brain aneurysm. All three recovered and are still acting, demonstrating that aphasia can be overcome in many cases.

Final Thoughts

By going public with her journey with dementia and aphasia, Wendy Williams and her family are raising greater awareness about the conditions, which impact many lives outside the public eye. It echoes the earlier news about actor Bruce Willis’ illness diagnosis, which also became public thanks to his family’s honesty.

For more, check out our previous article: How Bruce Willis’ Diagnosis and Joe Rogan’s Commentary Have Fueled Aphasia Misconceptions

About Spoken

Spoken is an app that helps people with aphasia, nonverbal autism, and other speech and language disorders.