Wendy Williams, like Bruce Willis, has aphasia, frontotemporal dementia. What to know.

Wendy Williams has been diagnosed with aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. What is that?

The former daytime talk show host received her diagnoses last year, according to a Thursday press release from her representatives.

"Wendy would not have received confirmation of these diagnoses were it not for the diligence of her current care team, who she chose, and the extraordinary work of the specialists at Weill Cornell Medicine. Receiving a diagnosis has enabled Wendy to receive the medical care she requires," the press release said.

What is aphasia?

Williams' frontotemporal dementia and aphasia diagnosis mirrors the medical issues of actor Bruce Willis. Willis was first diagnosed with aphasia in 2022 before being diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia last year. Aphasia is a disorder that comes from damage to parts of the brain responsible for language, according to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders. 

Aphasia can affect the way a person expresses language and understands it. The disorder also can affect reading and writing. Men and women are affected equally by aphasia, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

TV personality Wendy Williams attends the 2019 NYWIFT Muse Awards at the New York Hilton Midtown on December 10, 2019 in New York City.
TV personality Wendy Williams attends the 2019 NYWIFT Muse Awards at the New York Hilton Midtown on December 10, 2019 in New York City.

Frontotemporal dementia, or FTD, represents a group of brain disorders cause by the degeneration of the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain, the AFTD says. Those parts of the brain are generally associated with personality, behavior and language, the Mayo Clinic says.

The disorder has various subtypes and differs from Alzheimer's, as people diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia are typically younger. Most people with frontotemporal dementia are diagnosed in their early 40s through early 60s, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Willis is 67; Williams is 59.

"FTD has a substantially greater impact on work, family, and finances than Alzheimer's," the AFTD says, as the age of onset ranges younger.

How common is frontotemporal dementia?

The AFTD estimates there are about 50,000 to 60,000 people diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia in the U.S. The organization adds it is frequently misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's, depression, Parkinson's or a psychiatric condition, and it typically takes more than three years to get accurately diagnosed.

More: Talk show host Wendy Williams diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia and aphasia

What causes frontotemporal dementia?

The exact cause of frontotemporal dementia is currently unknown, but several medical organizations say there are genetic mutations that are linked to the disorder.

"Some people with FTD have tiny structures, called Pick bodies, in their brain cells. Pick bodies contain an abnormal amount or type of protein," Johns Hopkins Medicine says.

There is no known risk factor of developing the disorder, but the Mayo Clinic says your risk of developing frontotemporal dementia could be higher with a family history of dementia, but the AFTD disease is "sporadic."

Trauma is another possible cause of the disorder, says Dr. Paul Schulz, professor of neurology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston that has studied frontotemporal dementia.

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What are symptoms of frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia affects a person's behavior and personality, can cause speech problems and, in rare cases, can cause motor-related problems. Common symptoms include, but not limited to, are:

  • Increasingly inappropriate social behavior that can be impulsive or repetitive

  • Repetitive compulsive behavior, such as tapping, clapping or smacking lips

  • Loss of empathy and other interpersonal skills, such as having sensitivity to another's feelings

  • Frequent mood changes

  • Lack of judgment and apathy

  • Changes in eating habits, usually overeating, developing a preference for sweets and carbohydrates, or eating inedible objects

  • Distractibility

  • Difficulty in using and understanding written and spoken language, such as having trouble finding the right word to use in speech or naming objects

  • No longer knowing word meanings

  • Making mistakes in sentence construction

Frontotemporal dementia 'will spread'

Each FTD patient has unique symptoms because it depends on where the disease develops in each patient and how it spreads, Schulz said. As a result, medical professionals "can't be sure" of which symptoms will develop.

"Depending on where it starts, you'll have a manifestation that goes along with that," he told USA TODAY. "It will spread to other parts, and you'll get other symptoms."

The Mayo Clinic says symptoms typically get progressively worse over time. Affected people can eventually become bedbound, Schulz said.

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Can you treat frontotemporal dementia?

There is no cure from frontotemporal dementia, as the AFTD says there are no treatments that can slow or stop the progression of it. Schulz says medical professional will instead result in "symptomatic therapies" to treat the effects.

"Depending on the part of the brain that's involved, we have medicines that are often helpful," Schulz said. "Unfortunately, they don't cure the disease process underlying it, but they can help with the symptoms a lot to make the person's quality of life much better."

The AFTD adds frontotemporal dementia can lead to life-threatening issues like pneumonia, infection or injuries from fall, with pneumonia is the most common cause of death.

"People don't actually die of the disease, per se," Schulz said. "What we lose people from eventually is those medical complications."

The average life expectancy from the start of symptoms is 7 to 13 years, the AFTD says.

Contributing: Jordan Mendoza and Jay Stahl, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wendy Williams, Bruce Willis and frontotemporal dementia, explained