This week the family of actor Bruce Willis announced that he received a diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a rare disease that causes behavioral changes, language, speech, and memory problems, as well as motor disorders so walking is eventually affected.
FTD is difficult to diagnose as its symptoms are similar to other diseases. In its early stages, the disease is not recognized as dementia. The disorder may be caused by degenerative brain diseases, infections, stroke, or brain tumors. These lead to damage to neurons in the brain’s temporal and frontal lobes. Damage to the frontal lobes may result in drastic personality and behavioral changes.
FTD often occurs at a younger age when compared to other types of dementia. About 60% of FTD patients are 45 to 64 years of age.
Joel Salinas, M.D., is a behavioral neurologist at NYU Langone who spoke to Rolling Stone about FTD and Alzheimer’s. The doctor provided clarity about the effects of FTD and offered advice about detecting and treating the disorder.
Dr. Salinas says that the research he reviewed confirms that FTD results in an extremely difficult quality of life.
When researchers conducting a study asked the families and caregivers to describe the FTD quality of life, the overall response given was that it is ‘worse than death.’
How Does FTD Develop?
The disease develops once abnormal proteins begin to accumulate in the temporal and/or frontal lobes of the brain. Protein buildup causes nerve cells to become inflamed. Damage to the frontal lobes causes slow behavioral changes. Dr. Salinas further explained that the type of behavior most often reported are new obsessions, fractured family and friend relationships, and problems at work, impulsiveness, and excessive spending.
According to Dr. Salinas, Bruce Willis has a subtype of the disease called primary progressive aphasia.
During their statement this week, Bruce Willis’ family stated that there were no treatments for the disease. However, Dr. Sallinas added that doctors work with patients in accordance with their symptoms such as speech therapists and occupational therapists. However, he acknowledges that currently there is no cure.