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People with aphasia have difficulty speaking, reading, writing and understanding communication. The condition, which affects more than 2 million Americans, may be mild or debilitating, depending on its cause and duration.
In a statement about Willis’ diagnosis, the National Aphasia Association said aphasia is caused by a brain injury such as stroke or head trauma or, in the case of primary progressive aphasia (PPA), brain tissue deterioration.
Dr. Shazam Hussain, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Cerebrovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, told The New York Times that while all cases of aphasia stem from neurological changes in the brain, strokes resulting in brain damage are the No. 1 cause.
According to news reports, Willis began showing symptoms of the condition years ago. The family did not mention that Willis had had a stroke or brain injury, leading Brooke Lang, a speech pathologist, to tell Insider Willis may be experiencing PPA.
Aphasia linked to COVID and vaccines
However, strokes and aphasia have been linked to both.
In an article published Wednesday on Substack, Steve Kirsch posted the latest data, from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), on aphasia following the COVID vaccine. Between Dec. 14, 2020, and March 18, 2022, 3,057 cases of aphasia were reported following the COVID vaccine, with 340 of these in the age group 65-74.
Kirsch, executive director of the Vaccine Safety Research Foundation, called out three individual VAERS reports — VAERS ID: 906282, VAERS ID: 907710 and VAERS ID: 911587 — which describe in detail the aphasia symptoms developed by three individuals post-vaccination.
A June 2021 study published in the journal Brain Hemorrhages described the case of a 52-year-old man who developed sudden-onset reading difficulty and aphasia seven days after receiving the second dose of an mRNA-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
An MRI of the patient’s head revealed intracerebral bleeding (ICB). The aphasia resolved within a few days.
“Whether there was a causal relation between the ICB and the vaccination remains speculative but cannot be definitively excluded,” the authors noted.
An October 2021 paper in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports discussed the effects of COVID infection on people already suffering from aphasia.
The author reported that people with existing aphasia experienced “disrupted communication and daily routines, worsened psychosocial well-being, and difficulties getting aphasia services that adequately addressed their needs.”
The author also noted reports of “neurological and dysexecutive syndromes subsequent to interference of brain functions in acute patients with COVID-19, leading to variable aphasia-like symptoms.”
“In particular,” the author wrote, “a few case reports have summarized the neurological manifestations of COVID-19 that have led to aphasia or aphasia-like symptoms among patients in the acute and/or subacute stages.”
The author cautioned:
“Given the small number of publications on stroke and COVID-19 published thus far and the high heterogeneity of these patient profiles, we cannot confirm a causal relationship between the severity of COVID-19 (and therefore the respiratory and neurological symptoms) and aphasia.”
Between Dec. 14, 2020, and March 18, 2022, there were 13,602 reports submitted to VAERS of blood-clotting disorders following COVID vaccines. Blood clots, also associated with COVID, can lead to strokes.