We've known for about a year that action star Bruce Willis suffered from aphasia, a type of brain disorder that affects communication. But now, the family of the 67-year-old Die Hard actor says they have a more specific diagnosis, a type of dementia that you likely have never heard about.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) only affects about 50,000 to 60,000 Americans, but there's evidence that it may be underdiagnosed. It can come on sooner than Alzheimer's, usually occurring in people's 50s or 60s; The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration says the average age of diagnosis is 60. But it's one of the more common dementia diagnoses for those who get it earlier.
The symptoms, caused by atrophy of parts of the brain, are "executive functions" like personality, decision making and language, the AFD says. Frontotemporal dementia doesn't affect memory significantly at first, but it shows up in other cognitive ways early on such as increased apathy and issues with comprehending words. As it progresses, it can cause severe obsession, agitation and big behavioral swings as it begins to take a bigger toll on the brain's memory functions. In late stages, it can affect movement and even lead to ALS, according to the University of California San Francisco's health research. Interestingly, UCSF doctors say FTD might be linked to creativity; a small group of patients were said to express "extraordinary visual or musical creativity" even as they were losing other cognitive abilities.
There's no cure or significant treatments and a lot more research is needed, according to the group. Because it might be confused in younger people as a mental health or behavioral issue, it might be treated with medication or therapies that are harmful if it's misdiagnosed as Alzheimers, depression or schizophrenia. Those medications might include Galantamine, Chlorpromazine, Paxil or Prozac.
Bruce will always be the big cinema star, who thwarted terrorists early and screamed “yippie-kai-yay”. Go to his IMDB and enjoy the action-hero energy of one of the best to ever do it.