It's called the "cruelest disease you've never heard of," and there's no cure. Everyone diagnosed with this terrifying mental degenerative disorder will die from it. Retired actor Bruce Willis is the latest victim. Willis was forced to retire from acting last year after being diagnosed with aphasia, but his former wife Demi Moore posted on social media that it's progressed into frontotemporal dementia or FTD (via Variety):
After Bruce Willis’ family announced in March 2022 that the actor had been diagnosed with aphasia and would retire from acting, his condition has now progressed into frontotemporal dementia.
His family posted a statement on Thursday about Willis’ latest diagnosis.
“Since we announced Bruce’s diagnosis of aphasia in spring 2022, Bruce’s condition has progressed and we now have a more specific diagnosis: frontotemporal dementia (known as FTD). Unfortunately, challenges with communication are just one symptom of the disease Bruce faces. While this is painful, it is a relief to finally have a clear diagnosis,” his family wrote in a statement on the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration’s website.
It's the most common and deadly form of dementia to strike those under 60. Some are diagnosed with the speech variant, which sometimes paralyzes those from communicating with others. It also tends to prevent people from recognizing themselves in the mirror. On the behavior side, the disease can make people do and say wildly inappropriate things. It could cause those afflicted to do impulsive things, even those that venture into criminal behavior. The parts of the brain that tell us what is and isn't a good idea are gradually erased. Eventually, the disease breaks down the cognitive functions that keep vital organs working, which leads to death.
In 2019, CBS News' Bill Whittaker did a segment on FTD for "60 Minutes," interviewing three families coping with their loved ones being struck down by this debilitating ailment. Mark Johnson, who has since passed, was described as a doting father of four. He was fired from his engineering job for blurting out inappropriate things to a female co-worker. He was unable to recognize this was grossly negligent behavior, which progressed into compulsive eating. Even when his wife Amy locked food away and confiscated his credit cards, Mark would steal the food at the local store. Red flags that something was wrong with Mark came when she found her two young sons playing near a busy street outside; Mark was inside watching television as if nothing was wrong. Mr. Johnson passed away from the disease in 2021 at the age of 41.
Another FTD patient featured was Thomas Cox, who lost interest in his wife, family, and everything else to the point where he was let go from his job and now spends his days flipping through photos on his phone. Tracey Lind, the former dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, has the speech variant and was able to speak with Whittaker for some time before she exhibited signs of the disease.
As CBS News noted, on average, it could take up to three years until FTD is properly diagnosed in a patient after multiple expensive brain scans.
It's a devastating disease for everyone involved.