Does Bruce Willis have a rare form of dementia? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Recently, the family of Bruce Willis shared an update on the famous actor’s health, explaining that he has now been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia, known as frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
Bruce Willis dementia headlines are everywhere now, mainly because many are concerned for this beloved actor’s health and prognosis.
For some time now, Bruce Willis’ loved ones have been keeping the world up to date with his changing health status. In early 2022, Willis announced he would be stepping away from his acting career for a while, to focus on his well-being after being diagnosed with aphasia. He noted he was suffering from conditions that were affecting his cognitive abilities, and was undergoing additional testing.
The FTD diagnosis sheds some light on the challenges Willis has been facing over the last couple of years. For his family, including his ex-wife Demi Moore, current wife Emma Heming Willis, and his daughters, identifying the disease has been upsetting, but enlightening.
Currently, there’s no treatment or cure for FTD, although research into the condition is ongoing. Bruce’s family hopes his diagnosis will help to raise awareness of the disease.
Bruce Willis Dementia Diagnosis: What is Frontotemporal Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term, used to refer to conditions which can cause cognitive decline and causes issues with cognitive abilities, usually as a result of damage to the brain. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 55 million people are living with dementia worldwide, with 10 million new diagnoses emerging on a yearly basis.
Though most forms of dementia occur most commonly in later life, there are many different types of this disease, each with their own symptoms and components to consider. Most of the time, the disease is chronic or progressive in nature, gradually causing more damage to cognitive functions such as memory management, comprehension, and judgement.
Frontotemporal dementia is one of the more uncommon forms of the condition, caused by the formation of abnormal protein clumps within brain cells. This disease typically causes problems with language and behavior, affecting the frontal and temporal lobes.
For people with FTD, such as Bruce Willis, it can be difficult to control language and certain behaviors, on a daily basis. Many patients also suffer from problems with planning and organization. While it’s not fully understood what causes FTD, experts believe there may be a genetic link.
Approximately 1 in 8 people affected by FTD will also have relatives with the same condition, which indicates that a person’s genetics could potentially put them at higher risk of frontotemporal dementia.
Symptoms of FTD (Frontotemporal Dementia)
The signs and symptoms of dementia in all of its forms can vary from one person to the next. Most commonly, FTD causes changes in personality and behavior, prompting people to act impulsively, or sometimes inappropriately. In some cases, it can lead to behaviors which appear unsympathetic or selfish. In others, FTD may prompt people to neglect their personal hygiene, or overeat more frequently.
FTD is also commonly associated with language and communication problems – something Bruce Willis says he has been experiencing for some time. The impact on the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain can cause people to struggle with speaking at a normal pace, or have a hard time getting their thoughts and words in order.
Similar to many forms of dementia, FTD can also cause issues with memory and cognitive abilities. Patients often find themselves getting distracted easily, or struggling to remember facts about their lives. Memory issues tend to become more common as the disease progresses.
Over time, as the condition worsens, some patients may suffer with regular activities, such as controlling their bladder, walking, moving freely, or even swallowing.
FTD: Diagnosis and Treatment
As a relatively rare form of dementia, FTD is still not fully understood. There’s currently no single test available for diagnosis. However, doctors may use other methodologies used to examine potential symptoms of dementia. For instance, many medical professionals will use tests and exams to explore a patient’s mental abilities, if they’re showing signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Blood tests and brain scans can also be used to both rule out conditions which cause similar symptoms, and pinpoint the exact location where problems are emerging. MRI scans, CT scans, and PET scans are useful for examining the damaged areas of the brain. Lumbar punctures can also be useful for ruling out Alzheimer’s disease.
When FTD is diagnosed, there’s unfortunately no cure or treatment a doctor can prescribe to slow the condition from progressing or worsening. However, medical professionals can recommend treatments which help control some of the symptoms, such as medications for behavioral problems, therapies for managing speech, and dementia activities designed to improve brain function. Support groups can also be helpful for those experiencing the emotional side effects of this condition, including people who have a loved one recently diagnosed with dementia.
Is Dementia Genetic? The Link Between Dementia and Genetics
Dementia is a complex medical condition, with many potential causes and symptoms. Many people suffering from this issue will be worried they may pass it on to their children. However, most forms of dementia aren’t directly affected by genetics.
The biggest risk factor for most forms of dementia is age. As time progresses, damage can sometimes build up in the brain, gradually leading to conditions such as Alzheimer’s. However, genetics can play a part in your likelihood of having this disease.
A person’s risk of vascular dementia may be heightened by the presence of genes which can increase their risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Additionally, if someone develops dementia at an earlier age (before 60), there’s also a greater risk that it may be a form of dementia which can be passed down. Faulty genes, such as a variation of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene on chromosome 19, can increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s.
Certain rare kinds of dementia can also be genetically inherited, such as Familial Prion disease, and Huntington’s disease. These are caused by a faulty dominant gene in an individual’s DNA. This means even if a person inherits a faulty gene from one parent, and a healthy gene from the other, the faulty gene will take over, due to its dominance.
Is Frontotemporal Dementia Genetic?
Compared with many other forms of dementia, such as vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, FTD is quite rare. However, it is one of the forms of dementia which can be passed directly from one parent to a child. Frontotemporal dementia is often separated into two categories: sporadic FTD, and familial FTD. In familial FTD, multiple people across a genetic line have a related dementia condition. These people are usually closely related, such as grandparents, and parents.
In some cases, familial FTD can occur as a result of a variation in a single gene. In these cases, the condition is referred to as Genetic FTD. Around 10-20% of all cases of frontotemporal dementia fall into this category. Most of the time, the genetic issue which causes the condition comes from a mutation in one of three genes:
· C9ORF72: Mutations in the C9 gene can cause ALS, FTD, and even combination of both conditions in a single person. These mutations are the most common cause of genetic FTD.
· MAPT: Variations in the MAPT gene are often linked to the development of behavioral type FTD. They can also be connected to various progressive diseases in the brain, and Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.
· GRN: Mutations in the GRN gene can cause progressive speech and language disorders, such as primary progressive aphasia (one of the conditions Bruce Willis was diagnosed with prior to his FTD diagnosis). They can also cause FTD.
In rare cases, FTD can also be a result of mutations to other genes, such as the TARDBP, VCP, CHMP2B, SQSTM1, TBK1, or UBQLN1 genes.
Genetic variations of FTD are passed down through the generations in a dominant pattern, meaning if a child has a parent with one of the above mutated genes, they also have a 1 in 2 chance of having the same condition at some point. However, there’s no guarantee the condition will develop in a child, and very little insight available on when symptoms may start to present themselves.
Learning about Frontotemporal Dementia
FTD, like most forms of dementia, is a progressive disease which can affect people at different stages throughout their lives, and worsen at varying speeds. People with this condition typically become more socially isolated as the disease gets worse, similar to Bruce Willis himself. Many are concerned they may act in rude or unpredictable ways, or be unable to communicate properly.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to know for certain whether a person will develop dementia at some point in their lives. However, the genetic component of some of these conditions does mean it’s possible for individuals to get a head start on preparing for the disease.
If you discover you have mutated genes in your DNA, or you have a history of people with specific dementia conditions in your family, you can speak to your doctor about setting up a treatment and prevention plan as early as possible.
Using your CircleDNA Health DNA Testing Kit to find out your genetic risk level, you can find out about any carrier genes and mutations which may potentially cause an increased risk of dementia and other health conditions. The more you know now, the easier it will be to protect yourself as you get older. By learning your risk level from a DNA test, you’ll be able to take preventative steps to reduce your risk.
- WHO: Dementia
https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia#:~:text=Although dementia mainly affects older,million new cases every year.
- NCBI: Inheritance of Frontotemporal Dementia
- CDC: The truth about dementia and aging
- NIA: Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Fact Sheet
- Memory: Familial FTD
https://memory.ucsf.edu/genetics/familial-ftd#:~:text=The majority of genetic FTD,%2C SQSTM1%2C UBQLN1 or TBK1