Bruce Willis Was Diagnosed With Frontotemporal Dementia - Here's What That Means

Bruce Willis Was Diagnosed With Frontotemporal Dementia - Here's What That Means


One year after his family announced he would be retiring from acting to deal with aphasia, Willis has now been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.

FTD (frontotemporal dementia) is a type of dementia that affects the frontal and temporal lobes - responsible for language, behavior and movement. Though less common than Alzheimer's disease, FTD can affect younger individuals between 40-60 years old.

What Is Frontotemporal Dementia?

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), also referred to as frontotemporal dementia or FTD, is an illness that affects the front and temporal lobes of the brain. It's one of the most prevalent types of dementia.

Mental illness can interfere with a person's capacity for thought and memory, leading to changes in behavior as well as communication, movement, and personality.

This umbrella term describes a group of rare disorders that can affect the frontal and temporal lobes. These conditions are usually caused by genetic mutations and can be passed down through families.

The disease progresses slowly over time, with most people living eight to 10 years after diagnosis. As it worsens, however, severe physical issues such as muscle weakness and coordination issues may arise that leave a person in need of assistance such as using a wheelchair or bedbound; skin, urinary tract or lung infections are also common - eventually leading to death.

Early signs of Alzheimer's can be difficult to discern. For instance, someone may forget what they're saying or experience difficulty with language skills.

They might also struggle to locate words they need or even name objects. These can all be symptoms of semantic dementia, an age-related form of Frontotemporal Dementia that begins in the frontal lobes and slowly weakens memory over time.

As the condition progresses, a person's behavior may shift and they may become withdrawn or lose their independence. Eventually, they are unable to take care of themselves and require 24-hour support from carers for ongoing care.

It is essential to be aware that the symptoms of FTD may differ from person to person, depending on which areas of the brain are affected. That is why consulting with a doctor is so important - they can accurately diagnose you for sure.

Diagnosing FTD usually begins with a doctor reviewing the patient's history and neurological exam to assess symptoms. They can then refer the patient to a specialist for further testing, such as brain scans or MRIs. From there, they can determine what type of FTD someone has and how it's progressing.

What Are the Symptoms of FTD?

FTD (frontotemporal dementia) is an extremely rare disorder of the brain's front and temporal lobes. It develops due to an accumulation of abnormal proteins called tau and TDP-43 in these regions.

Proteins are necessary for cells to function normally, but when they don't, neurons in these areas become damaged. This can lead to issues with thinking, memory and behavior.

Early symptoms are typically mild and subtle, such as difficulty speaking or stringing together sentences correctly. If these signs are noticed early on in the process, they could serve as an invaluable early warning sign that someone has FTD.

Middle-stage FTD can have a detrimental effect on one's quality of life. They may forget words or phrases not commonly used in conversation, affecting their career prospects and interpersonal interactions with others.

Late-stage FTD can also cause personality and mood changes. People suffering from this stage may become depressed, irritable or angry.

Family members and other caregivers may find the behaviors associated with this stage of the disorder to be highly frustrating. If a caregiver notices that someone is becoming increasingly irritable, they can offer some support by giving them some space to relax.

Caregiver involvement is essential in understanding the underlying causes of behavior change. They should become well-informed on bipolar disorder and how best to manage it.

Neurologists diagnose FTD by reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical and neurological examination. Additionally, they may order lab tests and perform imaging.

In some instances, a doctor may suggest performing a brain biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. This test involves inserting a thin, flexible tube into the skull to extract small pieces of tissue without damaging the brain. It should be performed under local anesthetic for safety's sake.

Like other types of dementia, FTD presents different symptoms at each stage. Some stages are more serious than others and can have a substantial impact on an individual's quality of life.

Some symptoms may not even be noticeable to those around the person with FTD, while others are quite apparent. For instance, they may begin to forget their own names.

How Is FTD Diagnosis Made?

To accurately diagnose a condition, doctors require a detailed medical history and neurological examination. They may also perform cognitive testing and some blood tests. Brain scans or imaging can show areas of your brain that are showing signs of deterioration.

Misfolded proteins are a major contributor to FTD. Over time, these abnormal proteins accumulate in and around your neurons (cells that connect the brain and body), damaging them. They've been linked to other conditions like Pick's disease or dementia with Lewy bodies.

If you have FTD, your doctor will want to determine what is causing it. If a genetic mutation is suspected, DNA tests could be recommended to check for that mutation. Furthermore, if there is a family history of FTD in your family, your physician may inquire whether either of your parents had this disorder.

Your doctor may order other tests to rule out other causes of similar symptoms, such as psychiatric disorders or vascular dementia. Although these tests are less expensive and sensitive than brain imaging, they can still help identify diseases that may present with symptoms that mimic FTD.

Another commonly performed test is electroencephalography or EEG, a brain scan that records electrical activity in your brain. This scan can detect changes to how signals travel between regions of your brain, potentially leading to issues with memory or cognitive function. It may also identify illnesses like prion disease or hyperammonemia.

PET (Positron Emission Tomography) is an imaging technique that shows the amount of glucose and other molecules in specific regions of your brain. It's particularly helpful for recognizing changes to your frontal lobes.

Other tests can detect other brain changes, such as difficulties with spatial orientation. This affects how well you remember where things are or navigate your environment; although less common in Alzheimer's disease, it could be indicative of Frontal Temporomandibular Dysfunction (FTD).

Your doctor may ask about your social activities and interests. People with FTD often struggle to read facial expressions and social cues, have diminished empathy for other people's needs and feelings, or find it hard to form close relationships. Furthermore, they may struggle with controlling their behaviour when others make comments, take actions, or have attitudes.

What Are the Treatments for FTD?

FTD is still unknown but medical experts speculate it could be caused by either genetic mutation that affects the brain, or possibly due to brain trauma or injury.

According to the American Frontotemporal Dementia Association (AFTD), FTD typically affects people between 40 and 65 but can occur at any age. Unfortunately, there is no cure for FTD; however, certain medicines may help manage symptoms.

People with FTD often struggle to control their behaviors or the words they speak, leading to misunderstandings and embarrassment. According to AFTD estimates, there are approximately 50,000-60,000 individuals diagnosed with this disorder in the U.S.

FTD symptoms vary depending on which part of the brain is affected, but typically involve language, behavior and executive function. They may occur simultaneously or in stages, with more serious cases or less.

Aphasia is a type of dementia wherein an individual experiences difficulty speaking or understanding even simple words. It may also result in problems naming and recognizing objects.

Progressive non-fluent aphasia and semantic aphasia are two types of this syndrome: speaking in jumbled or unintelligible sentences that may be difficult for others to comprehend; conversely, the latter causes individuals to use vague or abstract terms that are difficult for others to comprehend.

FTD commonly presents with this symptom, which can be distressing for both those living with it and their loved ones. Medications like medroxyprogestrone or dopamine agonists have been known to provide temporary relief from this discomfort.

These medications may work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, which could aid with movement. They should only be taken in small doses and any potential side effects should be carefully monitored by a healthcare professional.

Other treatments for aphasia include speech therapy, which is administered by an occupational therapist or other trained specialist. This type of therapy helps those suffering from the disorder communicate more effectively and enhances their quality of life.

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