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What is Frontotemporal Dementia? 

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While Bruce Willis was first diagnosed with aphasia in the spring of 2022, the famous actor’s family has recently updated his fans with the news that his condition has progressed to frontotemporal degeneration dementia. What exactly does that mean? And what are the signs and symptoms? 

Approximately 55 million people in the world suffer from some form of dementia. Frontotemporal dementia, or FTD, is a rare form of dementia that unlike Alzheimer’s in which memory loss is the initial symptom, FTD involves changes in behavior. This progressive decline typically appears in individuals in their mid-50s or 60s, but can fluctuate in earlier or even later years. 

Symptoms of FTD include change in personality, language production and behavior, essentially leading to a decline in functioning. In Bruce Willis’ case, he had to use an earpiece on his last movie due to the fact that he struggled with speaking his lines correctly. (This was two years before he was properly diagnosed.) 

During the course of the disease, the ability to communicate becomes highly impaired due to portions of the brain lobe shrinking. Depending on which part of the brain is affected, symptoms can vary and FTD is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or looked at as a psychiatric issue. 

Typically, however, this change occurs in clusters of both behavioral and speech changes. An individual may find it harder to find the words for simple everyday items, personal hygiene may decline, irritability can occur and motor issues like poor coordination or difficulty swallowing can occur.

There is currently no cure, cause or known risk factor for frontotemporal dementia, but some report that those with a family history of dementia could be at a high risk. FTD is behind approximately 10 to 20% of dementia cases. Due to the rarity, and difficulty, of the disease the Willis family has been transparent in sharing the actor’s journey in an effort to bring awareness to the disease. 

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