Frontotemporal dementia: early signs and symptoms of FTD, what is it, are causes known?

Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. (Getty Images)Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. (Getty Images)
Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. (Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images
Bruce Willis has starred in various blockbuster films in his career including Die Hard, Pulp Fiction and Armageddon

The 67-year-old became a household name in the 1980s and 1990s for his appearances in films such as Die Hard, The Sixth Sense and Pulp Fiction. Willis’s condition has evolved from a previous diagnosis of Aphasia from March 2022, a condition affecting the brain which can cause difficulty with language, speech and communication.

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In a statement on social media the actor’s family expressed their “deepest gratitude for the incredible outpouring of love” that the actor has received from fans since the diagnosis. The family also explained that frontotemporal dementia is one of the most common forms of dementia in people under 60.

But what is Frontotemporal dementia and what are the early signs and symptoms of the condition? Here is everything you need to know.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia, also known as FTD, is one of several types of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association explains: “Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) or frontotemporal degeneration refers to a group of disorders causes by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobe (the area behind your forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind your ears).”

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Bruce Willis and Emma Heming pictured in 2019. (Getty Images)Bruce Willis and Emma Heming pictured in 2019. (Getty Images)
Bruce Willis and Emma Heming pictured in 2019. (Getty Images) | Getty Images

The long term impacts of the nerve cell damage can cause deterioration in behaviour, personality and or difficulty absorbing and comprehending language.

What causes frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia is something which is inherited in around a third of all cases. Genetic counselling and testing are available in individuals with family histories. There are no known risk factors for FTD other than family history of a similar disorder.

What are the early signs and symptoms?

There are several differences and similarities between FTD and Alzheimer’s although both are forms of dementia.

People with FTD are often diagnosed with the disorder between their 40s and early 60s, while Alzehimer’s more commonly occurs at a later point in life. Memory loss tends to be more prominent in Alzheimer’s in the early stages than early FTD, although FTD cases often lead to memory loss as the condition escalates.

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Behaviour changes and problems with speech are often the first common signs of FTD, whereas they often happen later in the process with Alzheimer’s. Hallucinations and delusions are common with Alzheimer’s but they rarely occur with people suffering from FTD.

Is there any treatment available for FTD?

There are currently no specific treatments for FTD, however there are medications available which can help reduce some of the symptoms of the disorder including agitation, irritability and depression. Frontotemporal depression tends to worsen over time and the speed of the decline varies from person to person.

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