The actor retired last year due to his health.
The family of actor Bruce Willis shared a tragic update about his health on Thursday. Almost a year after his loved ones announced that the Die Hard star had been diagnosed with aphasia and would be retiring, they posted a statement revealing that his condition has worsened, progressing into what’s known as frontotemporal dementia, or FTD.
“FTD is a cruel disease that many of us have never heard of and can strike anyone,” wrote in a statement. “For people under 60, FTD is the most common form of dementia, and because getting the diagnosis can take years, FTD is likely much more prevalent than we know.”
Willis’ family is now hoping to raise more awareness around the disorder, which leads to changes in behavior and can make it hard to speak. “We know in our hearts that – if he could today — he would want to respond by bringing global attention and a connectedness with those who are also dealing with this debilitating disease and how it impacts so many individuals and their families,” said the letter signed by Willis’ five daughters, wife Emma Heming Willis, and his ex-wife, Demi Moore.
Here’s more on the condition, some common symptoms, and whether or not it can be cured.
What is frontotemporal dementia?
Frontotemporal dementia is generally used to refer to a group of brain disorders characterized by the loss of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which causes them to gradually shrink over time.
There are generally two main types of FTD: Frontal variant and primary progressive aphasia. While the frontal variant impacts behavior and personality, primary progressive aphasia causes issues with communication, making it difficult if not impossible.
But just how common is this disease? FTD makes up roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of dementia cases and tends to be more prevalent in people under 60, but as Willis’ case tragically shows, it can also strike those who are older. Even these estimates may be much lower than the reality — that’s because the condition is often mistaken for a psychiatric problem or Alzheimer’s disease, and it can take years to get a formal diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What are some common signs of frontotemporal dementia?
Symptoms can run the gamut, depending on which part of the brain is affected, per John Hopkins Medicine. In Willis’s case, though, his family has said FTP has led to “challenges with communication,” among other unspecified symptoms.
Other common signs can include a sense of apathy, repetitive compulsive tendencies like tapping, frequent mood changes, forgetting the meaning of certain words, and struggling to understand or name everyday things. Some people with FTP may even experience dramatic personality or behaviorial changes, causing them to act out of character and do things like steal or lose interest in keeping up their personal hygiene.
Though these tend to be rare, it’s also important to keep an eye out for motor-related difficulties, such as difficulty swallowing, tremors, and muscle spasms.
Is there a cure for frontotemporal dementia?
As Willis’s family points out in their statement, there are sadly no cures or treatments for this disease, though certain medicines and speech therapy can help people manage their symptoms.
But his family hopes to change that with more studies and data. “As Bruce’s condition advances, we hope that any media attention can be focused on shining a light on this disease that needs far more awareness and research,” they said.