Emma Heming Willis appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show” to discuss Bruce Willis’ recent diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD). Emma Heming Willis said that the disease is difficult for both the patient and their family.
According to the National Institute on Aging, frontotemporal dementia occurs when the neurons in the temporal and frontal lobes are damaged. This causes the lobes to shrinkage, which can have an impact on behavior, personality, and language.
Heming Willis said to Hoda K. Kotb on The Today Show that she was unsure whether her husband knew about his condition.
Heming Willis said to Kotb, “It is hard to know.”
It is possible that a person may not be aware of their condition. This can make the life of the person suffering from the disease and the people who care for them difficult and emotionally painful.
“FTD is, in a few words, a condition where brain cells gradually stop working or die over time. This is called neurodegeneration,” explained Dr. Joel Salinas, a Clinical Assistant Professor in Neurology at NYU Langone Health and Chief Medical Director at Isaac Health. “When a member of the family is diagnosed with dementia, it affects everyone in the family.”
What is frontotemporal degeneration?
“Dementia” is the term we use to describe cognitive impairment. This is a decline in functioning from a previous level, and it is severe enough to affect a person’s daily activities, such as managing finances, taking medications, driving, or bathing. Marzena Gieniusz, a geriatrician at Northwell Health.
She says that while dementias share many symptoms and signs, some are more common in one type than another.
Early-stage FTD is more likely to be accompanied by language problems than Alzheimer’s.
Gieniusz explained that there are many different types of Frontotemporal Dementia. In general, the condition is caused by damage to neurons in the temporal and frontal lobes and an abnormal accumulation of protein. This type of dementia affects people much earlier than other forms of dementia and is usually diagnosed between the mid-40s and mid-60s.
The symptoms can include personality changes, behavioral changes, difficulties controlling emotions, a decline in judgment, movement issues, or difficulty communicating.
Do people know about their condition?
It’s hard to tell if FTD patients are aware of the cognitive decline.
Anosognosia is the medical term for a specific symptom that is associated with these conditions. Salinas said that it’s the inability to detect these changes or to be aware of them. “When someone is more affected in the frontal-lobes, this is more likely to be true.”
The more advanced the condition, the greater the chance that patients will develop a loss of understanding.
Families, adult children, and spouses can be frustrated by the fact that they believe the patient to be in denial. Salinas explained that while this may be the case in some cases, it could also be because they are unaware.
Mental Health for Caregivers
Dementia can be a very complex condition. Patients are affected in many ways: physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. The disease also affects those who are caring for the patient, which is particularly difficult because there is so much that we don’t know about it.
What I’m learning about dementia is that it is difficult. The person who is diagnosed with dementia suffers. It’s hard for the person who is diagnosed, but also for their family. Hemming Willis spoke of her family’s experiences with the disease.
Gieniusz said that this can be frustrating to everyone. “Understanding and getting a proper diagnosis can be difficult, but it is even more challenging to navigate the complex healthcare system and limited resources to care for those you love while also trying to manage your own life. Caregivers are often seen neglecting their health in order to take care of those they love.
Patients and their caregivers must connect with professionals who are familiar with the disease and know how to help.
Salinas stated that the first step caregivers should take is to determine what their needs are at this time. Some people get a sense of support from educating themselves and learning as much as they can. Others need emotional support. Other caregivers might need physical support in the home. This could be someone to keep track of their appointments or help them with daily tasks like bathing and dressing.
“It is a long and challenging process. Many people can feel loneliness, abandonment, stress, and isolation. There are many ways to deal with these issues. “Even though there may not be a cure for these conditions, you can still address other issues like loneliness and isolation as well as being disconnected from support,” he said.
Gieniusz added, “We remind caregivers of the importance of taking care of themselves. Not only for their own sake but also because they cannot do their best for others if their health is not good.” Even small acts of care can go a long way. They will ensure that they attend their medical appointments, maintain a healthy lifestyle, exercise, and do something they enjoy every day. “Every little bit counts.”
Can dementia be detected or prevented?
Early detection and diagnosis is one of the best ways to support a patient or their family members through the challenges of dementia. The earlier you can start planning, the better.
Some tests can help clinicians diagnose dementia and rule out other conditions. However, the diagnosis is complex and often requires a comprehensive evaluation, which includes a detailed history of the patient and lab tests, as well as other testing if needed.
Genetic factors can influence the risk of dementia in some people. Gieniusz said that it can be hereditary. Genetic testing can be done to help with diagnosis or to assess the risk of dementia in people who are genetically related. It is important to remember that not all people with a genetic predisposition develop the disease.
The risk factors can be modified to reduce the risk of dementia. Healthy lifestyles are recommended, including avoiding alcohol and smoking, managing stress, maintaining a healthy eating and exercise regimen, maximizing cognitive reserve, and getting enough rest.
It is important to talk with your primary care physician if you notice any decline in cognitive function.
Emma Heming Willis spoke about Bruce Willis’s health and the impact of frontotemporal degeneration. This type of dementia affects people more often in their mid-40s and mid-60s.