It was just a year ago that Bruce Willis’ family disclosed that the actor would be retiring from acting owning to a diagnosis of aphasia, a neurological disorder that affects language speaking, hearing, reading and writing. Only recently has the family made the further disclosure that Mr. Willis’ aphasia is actually a symptom of fronto temporal dementia (FTD), the common form of dementia among individuals under 60 years of age and affects about 9 in 100,000 people between age 60 and 70.
I often talk about what to look for if you have an older loved one, but with FTD, it can be anyone from age forty and older. There are a good many genetic markers for this relatively rare condition, but individuals with family members who have been diagnosed will have a forty percent greater likelihood of manifesting the condition.
Diagnosing FTD. It’s all about “executive-function” in neurologist speak. This covers a lot of territory, but it comes down to losing abilities that a person may have had like:
- Planning ahead, following or formulating recipes;
- Setting priorities or goals;
- Repeating words or phrases again and again;
- Impulsive or inappropriate language or actions;
- Losing interest in what everyone else in the family may be doing.
Treating FTD. As with most forms of dementia, there is no cure or magic bullet to stave off the inexorable cognitive decline of this condition. But there are steps caregivers and patients can take to help delay the degeneration:
- Encourage regular daily exercise – anything that increases blood flow and cardiac wellness;
- Promote sleep 7 to 8 hours a night – pretty much as with anyone…in this case because it can help the brain do its nocturnal clearing and cleaning;
- Go Mediterranean – which translates into heavy reliance on plant-based meals, fish and whole grains as well as healthy fats like olive oil;
- Flex the brain – apply the daily exercise routine to that muscle between the ears …and mix it up by learning new games and avoiding screen time;
- Engage socially – encourage civil and community and family engagement to avoid brain decline as well as depression;
- Lead with the heart – lower sodium, lower blood pressure and lower alcohol consumption while definitely eliminating tobacco.
Now that Mr. Willis has been diagnosed, you can be assured that the press will give this rare condition more attention. Stay tuned to what will be learned and shared. Follow Mr. Willis’ role model of fitness, diet and as with most of his movies … tenacity.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.