Actor Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia or FTD, his family announced on Thursday. Last spring, Willis had previously been diagnosed with aphasia, a disorder that can affect a person’s ability to speak. Unfortunately, the two disorders can overlap, and that’s likely the case with Willis, says Travis Groft, Ph.D., Madonna’s senior director of neuropsychology.
“FTD is a rare form of dementia, and it can often include aphasia,” Groft said. “One type of FTD is called primary progressive aphasia, and that might be what Willis has given his earlier diagnosis.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, FTD is a group of disorders caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain's frontal lobes or its temporal lobes, which leads to a loss of function in those areas. Primary progressive aphasia affects parts of the brain that are responsible for speech and language. Additionally, the condition usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 64.
What are the symptoms of FTD?
Depending on what type of FTD an individual has, the symptoms can vary.
“Primary progressive aphasia can lead to severe communication problems,” Groft said. “Finding the right words or understanding words can be a challenge.”
Groft also noted that when this happens on a regular basis, it might be time to see a health care provider for an evaluation. Madonna’s neuropsychology department, which includes a diverse group of neuropsychologists, rehabilitation counselors and post-doctoral residents, provides clinical examinations designed to evaluate an individual’s cognitive skills. They also offer educational and support resources to those who are diagnosed with FTD.
What treatments are available for FTD?
FTD has no known cure at this time. However, certain medications or therapies can help slow the progression of the disease. In fact, speech therapy can play a vital role, and Madonna’s team of speech therapists has treated individuals with this disorder before. Groft gave the following advice for caregivers of individuals with FTD:
“The person with communication problems may retain their intelligence and wisdom, despite their inability to communicate,” Groft said. “Please remember to show respect for their opinion and be patient with their communication struggles. Seeing a speech therapist for guidance and assistance can be very helpful.”
For more information about Madonna’s neuropsychology department, click here.