VOA Learning English

What is the Brain Condition Frontotemporal Dementia?

VOA Learning English • voa
Feb. 26, 2024 4 minSource

A brain wasting disease called frontotemporal dementia has gained attention after television and film personalities said they suffered from it.

In a statement, caregivers said doctors told talk show host Wendy Williams that she had the unusual form of dementia. It said Williams had undergone many medical tests to identify the condition. Actor Bruce Willis is also reportedly affected by the condition.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia, or FTD, is a rare disease that affects parts of the brain controlling behavior and language. These parts of the brain shrink as the disease gets worse.

FTD usually can affect people in their 40s through their early 60s. It can change a person’s personality , causing a loss of control or wild behavior. It is sometimes mistaken for mental health disorders like depression or bipolar disorder. It can take years for doctors to diagnose the condition.

Brenda Rapp is a scientist at Johns Hopkins University. Rapp described signs of the disease this way: “Maybe you’re doing things that are bothering people and you don’t really understand why they’re bothering people.”

The disease is linked to primary progressive aphasia, which is a condition affecting a person’s ability to communicate. A person with this sort of FTD may have trouble finding words or understanding speech.

What causes FTD?

Damage to neurons, the brain’s information carriers, is believed to be part of the problem but the root reasons for a case are often unclear. People with a family history of the condition are more likely to develop it. But most people with FTD have no family history of dementia.

Can FTD be treated?

There is no cure for FTD, but there are different ways to try to deal with it. People might get speech therapy if they have the kind that affects language. They might get physical therapy to improve movement.

Some patients receive antidepressants or drugs for Parkinson’s, a nervous system disease, which has some of the same symptoms as FTD.

How fast does FTD progress?

FTD can be a long illness, lasting two to 10 years. People with FTD will need caregiving or nursing support as their symptoms get worse.

“The disease will spread throughout the brain,” Rapp said. “The rate at which it does that is extremely unpredictable. So, it’s very hard to know...how quickly someone will deteriorate .”

The financial costs for a family can be high. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that it costs $10,000 a year, on average, in the United States for health and long-term care for a person with dementia.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Carla K. Johnson reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.

Words in This Story

host – n. a person who talks to guests on a television or radio show

personality – n. the set of emotional qualities or ways of behaving that makes a person different from other people

therapy – n. the treatment of physical or mental illnesses

symptom – n. a change in the body or mind which shows that a disease is present

deteriorate – v . to become worse as time passes


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