Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

What is frontotemporal dementia? Wendy Williams’ and Bruce Willis’ condition explained

Wendy Williams annouced that she’d been diagnoised with FTD on 22 February

Amber Raiken
New York
Monday 26 February 2024 10:23 GMT
Comments
Sad Update: Bruce Willis' Condition Has Progressed

Wendy Williamas has revealed that she’s been diagnoised with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which is the same health condition that Bruce Willis has.

On 22 February, Williams’ team first revealed that she’d been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and FTD. “In 2023, after undergoing a battery of medical tests, Wendy was officially diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia (FTD),” the 59-year-old former daytime talk show host’s care team wrote in a press release.

“Aphasia, a condition affecting language and communication abilities, and frontotemporal dementia, a progressive disorder impacting behavior and cognitive functions, have already presented significant hurdles in Wendy’s life,” the statmeent conditnued.

Williams’ diagnosis comes one year after Bruce Willis’ family shared that his condition progressed in a statement with the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. “We now have a more specific diagnosis: frontotemporal dementia,” they wrote in February 2023. “Unfortunately, challenges with communication are just one symptom of the disease Bruce faces. While this is painful, it is a relief to finally have a clear diagnosis

Back in March 2022, the Die Hard star’s family first announced he would be “stepping away” from acting after he had been diagnosed with aphasia, which was “impacting his cognitive abilities”.

Here’s what Williams’ and Willis’ health condition is and everything you need to know about  frontotemporal dementia.

What is FTD and how common is it?

FTD “represents a group of brain disorders caused by degeneration of the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain,” as noted by The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. There are  many different subtypes of FTD, including Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), which is a disorder that impacts how a person speaks.

It is also the most common type of dementia for people under the age of 60. However, it is both “lesser common and lesser known” in the US, with an estimate of “60,000 cases”. The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration also acknowledges that FTD is has been misdiagnosed for other neurological conditions, such Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.

The condition takes “an average of  3.6 years to get an accurate diagnosis” of it.

What are the causes and how to diagnose it?

Although the cause of FTD isn’t known, “researchers have linked certain subtypes of FTD to mutations on several genes”, as reported by John Hopkins Medicine. People with the disease may also have “tiny structures” in their brain cells “that contain an abnormal amount or type of protein”.

The medical site notes that signs of FTD can be noticed through “subtle changes” in people’s “behaviour or language skills”. While there isn’t a test to diagnose the disease, blood tests and physical exams can be done to “rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms”.

What are the symptoms of the condition?

Although symptoms of FTD vary for everyone, John Hopkins Medicine says that they can “start gradually and progress steadily”. In some cases, they can progress rapidly.

The most common symptoms range from behavioural changes, including “swearing, stealing, increased interest in sex, or a deterioration in personal hygiene habits”. Some other behaviours can include being “socially inappropriate or impulsive”.

Other personality changes can be an inability to understand your language, with “difficulty naming objects, expressing words, or understanding the meanings of words”.

Some people with the condition may have physical symptoms, including “tremors, muscle spasms or weakness, poor coordination and/or balance, and difficulty swallowing”.

How to cope with FTD as there are no treatments?

There currently isn’t a cure for FTD. However, according to Mayo Clinic, certain medications can be used to manage the condition. Some antidepressants, like trazodone, and antipsychotic medications, like olanzapine and quetiapine,  “may reduce the behavioural problems associated” with the disease.

However, the medical site urges patients to use the antipsychotic medications “with caution,” as people with dementia are at risk of side effects, “including an increased risk of death”.

For some people who have language difficulties, they could also go to speech therapists “to learn alternate strategies for communication”.

In the statement, signed by Willis’s wife Emma, ex-partner Demi Moore and his five children, the family acknowledged how the Unbreakable star wants his diagnosis to bring “global attention” to FTD.

“We know in our hearts that – if he could today – he would want to respond by bringing global attention and a connectedness with those who are also dealing with this debilitating disease and how it impacts so many individuals and their families,” they explained.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in