Since revealing his aphasia diagnosis last year, his family has shared that Bruce Willis’ condition has progressed and he’s now been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. Let’s dive into what this means, along with the risk factors and symptoms of dementia.
It was in 2022 that the 67-year-old movie star was diagnosed with aphasia – this is a condition that defines difficulty with language and speech. Aphasia can result from a number of causes, but stroke is one of the most common. We can now see that, in Willis’ case, his aphasia was a sign of the early stages of dementia.
“Since we announced Bruce’s diagnosis of aphasia in spring 2022, Bruce’s condition has progressed and we now have a more specific diagnoses: frontotemporal dementia,” Willis’ family announced in a statement on Instagram.
Find the full statement on Demi Moore’s Instagram page @Demimoore
What is frontotemporal dementia?
Frontotemporal dementia is a term used to describe diseases that result in the slow loss of brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain – this simply means the front, left and right sides. It’s responsible for almost 40% of early-onset dementia cases and is one of the most likely causes of the disease in those under 65 years of age. Unlike other forms of neurodegeneration, frontotemporal dementia usually develops slowly and it can take years for symptoms to become debilitating.
It occurs as a result of a build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain. One protein, known as amyloid, leads to a number of plaque deposits, as does another protein, known as tau – the plaque deposits of this protein tend to create tangles in and around our brain cells. The result includes changes in speech patterns, behaviour and even personality. Take a look at some of the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia – keep in mind some of these tend to show up in the later stages of the disease:
- Unusual, antisocial behaviour
- The loss or change of speech and language patterns
- Rigid movements
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
In many cases, the cause for this kind of dementia remains unknown, but we do know that genetics and a family history of the disease increases the risk, with up to 30% believed to be caused by genetics. researchers have even linked its development to traumatic brain injuries – while it’s simply speculation, some have suggested the link to Willis here as he was involved in a serious injury during the 2003 filming of Tears of the Sun. He filed a lawsuit against Revolution Studios as a result of the “extreme mental, physical and emotional pain” he endured, including an incident where he was struck by a projectile object. We also know that certain lifestyle and environmental factors may increase our risk for a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including frontotemporal dementia, as it can contribute to inflammation. Smoking, alcoholism and excess sugar consumption are all habits that can contribute to the development of chronic inflammation, and researchers have reason to believe this state can play a major role in developing dementia. The inflammation may also bolster the progression of the disease.
Can we reduce our risk for dementia?
While our individual risk for developing dementia each vary, there are a few lifestyle changes we can make to reduce our risk for the disease. An anti-inflammatory diet has been found to significantly lower the chances of developing dementia, and this includes a diet low in sugar, and rich in whole foods, minimally-processed goods with antioxidant properties and healthy fats like omega 3s. When we consume too much sugar, we throw our microbiome out of whack – this means the trillions of microbes responsible for our health can lean in favour of bad bacteria. Excess sugar causes negative changes to the bacteria populations, with research finding high-sugar diets can lower microbial diversity and create higher levels of Proteobacteria, which is an indicator of an unbalanced microbiome, and thereby raises our risk for chronic inflammation – something we want to avoid in order to reduce our chance of developing numerous chronic conditions like dementia. Considering the average Aussie is downing 17 teaspoons of the stuff a day – nearly 3 times the 6-teaspoon limit for women and just under half the 9-teaspoon limit for men recommended by the World Health Organisation – many of us are raising our risk for chronic disease. The antidote is real, whole foods like legumes, fresh fruit and veg, nuts, seeds, fermented foods and anti-oxidant rich foods and drinks like ginger, berries and green tea.
It’s also worth quitting smoking – this addictive habit is a major contributor to cognitive decline, with the World Health Organisation suggesting it could be responsible for 14% of dementia cases across the globe. One study ranked smoking as the third largest modifiable risk factor for dementia, while another piece of research indicated that smokers had a 30% higher likelihood of developing dementia and a 40% higher likelihood of developing dementia. It’s worth noting that the above risks that come with smoking, like high blood pressure and strokes, are associated with a higher risk of developing dementia.
The toxins in the smoke contribute to inflammation and result in oxidative stress in the body, which is one of the major reasons the habit can cause dementia. Consuming too much alcohol is another risk factor as well. While the occasional glass of red is fine, and some studies show its antioxidant content may even provide anti-inflammatory benefits, you probably won’t want to be throwing back alcoholic beverages too often. Over time, excess consumption can damage your brain cells, leaving you with a heavily reduced amount of white matter in the brain, and this white matter plays an essential role in signal transmission in the brain. Without an adequate amount of this matter, we become susceptible to a number of brain-related issues.
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