Bruce Willis’ Frontotemporal Dementia Is Not Your Grandpa’s Dementia

Medscape Neurology – When I read the news that Bruce Willis had disclosed his diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), I was reminded that all of us are at risk for spending our final epoch lost in a neurologic swamp.

What is remarkable about the swamp that we call FTD is that it’s a somewhat rare and unusual type of dementia.

We tend to characterize dementia as the erosion of memory, but FTD is more characterized by the loss of control over emotions and other cognitive functions. What’s especially tragic for performers like Willis is the loss of the verbal fluency required for delivering one’s lines.

Frontotemporal Dementia

To this casual observer, Bruce Willis was an almost invincible force, vigorous, vital, one of the “immortals.” Alas, with his FTD diagnosis, we know that even a die-hard like Willis, now only 67 years of age, may have to endure years of progressive decline.

If the disease follows its typical path, that will probably include slowly disconnecting and progressively losing emotional judgment and control as well as losing a reasonable understanding of what or why any of it is happening. He may also experience a progressive deterioration of the control of bodily functions and general health.

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Most people with dementia lose their neurocognitive abilities through a number of different pathways, all of which result in brain shrinkage, disconnection, evident neuropathology, neurobehavioral expressions of loss, and forms of befuddlement.

Alzheimer’s disease leads the list as the most common form of dementia, but vascular dementias; dementia with Lewy bodies; “mixed” dementias; dementias associated with Parkinson’s, Huntington, or other diseases; dementia rising from alcoholic or other brain poisoning, HIV, Lyme disease, or a host of other brain infections; or from traumatic encephalopathy (chronic or more current) may present at any active neurology clinic.

These are what you might think of as your “grandpa’s dementia” — the common types often associated with old age.

FTD is a particularly interesting variant for several reasons. First, it usually arises in relatively young individuals …


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