‘Early’ signs of frontotemporal dementia amid Bruce Willis diagnosis

Bruce Willis: Dr Amir discusses frontotemporal dementia

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Bruce Willis, 67, has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, his family announced on Thursday. The Die Hard star, who retired from acting last May, has been struggling with various symptoms including challenges with communication. Because frontotemporal dementia is a lesser-known type of the mind-robbing condition, symptom awareness is front and centre.

Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Dr Amir Khan said: “Frontotemporal dementia is one of the less common ones. It affects the part of the brain at the front and at the side in the temple area that is responsible for our behaviour, personality, and speech.

“Symptoms are things that affect those things. We get personality changes, language problems, lack of social awareness – things may be said that perhaps the person wouldn’t [otherwise] say – and mental abilities get affected as well.

“The symptoms come on younger so the typical age of onset is between 40 and 60, whereas with Alzheimer’s disease it’s usually 60 plus.”

Willis’ wife Emma Heming, ex-wife Demi Moore and daughters Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel and Evelyn took to the website for the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration to reveal the actor’s diagnosis with this dementia type. 

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Problems with language and memory, which started rumours about Willis’ cognitive state and prompted his retirement in May 2022, are “just one symptom of the disease Bruce faces”, they wrote in the statement.

The family continued: “While this is painful, it is a relief to finally have a clear diagnosis.

“FTD [frontotemporal dementia] is a cruel disease that many of us have never heard of and [which] can strike anyone. 

“For people under 60, FTD is the most common form of dementia, and because getting the diagnosis can take years, FTD is likely much more prevalent than we know.

“As Bruce’s condition advances, we hope that any media attention can be focused on shining a light on this disease that needs far more awareness and research.”

Early signs of frontotemporal dementia

While more common forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, tend to start with memory problems, this isn’t the case with frontotemporal dementia. “Memory gets affected later on,” Dr Amir said.

According to the University of California San Francisco, the “early signs” of FTD include the following:

  • Apathy or an unwillingness to talk
  • Change in personality and mood (such as depression)
  • Lack of inhibition or lack of social tact
  • Obsessive or repetitive behaviour (such as compulsively shaving or collecting items)
  • Unusual verbal, physical or sexual behaviour.

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The NHS urges seeing a GP if you have “early” symptoms of dementia.

If you’re worried about someone else who is experiencing these warning signs, encourage them to seek out medical help, the health service advises.

Dr Amir added: “I think what’s really important is that people are aware of these symptoms because they are often misdiagnosed as other things because this condition is so rare.

“It can get misdiagnosed as a psychiatric problem because of the behavioural changes and people go down the wrong route of treatment.”

How to reduce your risk of dementia

There’s no certain way to prevent all types of dementia, with some risk factors like age and genetics being non-negotiable.

Fortunately, researchers tend to agree that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of developing dementia when you’re older.

When it comes to your diet, the NHS recommends eating a healthy, balanced diet, while keeping your intake of saturated fat, salt and sugar in check.

Furthermore, other interventions like quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, and picking up exercise could also help lower your risk.

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