Hollywood actor Bruce Willis, known for his roles in the Die Hard franchise and countless other blockbusters, was diagnosed with dementia last week.
His family announced last March that he had been diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate. It usually happens after a stroke or head injury but can also occur from a degenerative brain disease.
The new diagnosis is for front-temporal dementia, signifying his condition has worsened. Front-temporal dementia generally strikes between the ages of 45 and 65 and is the most common form of dementia for people under 60. Willis is 67.
Because it takes quite a long time to receive a diagnosis for front-temporal dementia, it may be more prevalent than is currently reported. It is a relatively rare condition, with estimates suggesting it impacts roughly 50,000-60,000 people in the United States.
It is a progressive condition, meaning it may only start with a single symptom, but more can appear and get significantly worse over time. There are currently no treatments.
The condition strikes the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes, causing parts of them to atrophy. With that, it can produce symptoms affecting speech and causing emotional issues, problems with walking and swallowing, muscle spasms, as well as personality changes.
All of these symptoms are likely to worsen over time.
One of the recognizable early symptoms may be a person suddenly acting differently, which they have no control over.
Early signs of aphasia may be speaking in short or incomplete sentences, saying things that don’t make sense, or using words that don’t fit. Struggling to follow conversation may also occur.
It is possible that a high-profile case like Willis will lead to further exploration of the condition and perhaps bring on a greater understanding of the disease.