Doctor offers insight about frontotemporal dementia

Bruce Willis recently diagnosed with the disease
Doctor discusses frontotemporal dementia
Matthew Smith-Cohn
Posted at 9:12 AM, Feb 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-27 11:12:20-05

GREAT FALLS — Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia according to his family. Like other forms of dementia, it is a disease of the brain.

Dr. Matthew Smith-Cohn, a neuro-oncologist at Benefis Health Systemin Great Falls, said frontotemporal dementia is relatively rare but there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

"Frontotemporal dementia is always known as FTD. It's an umbrella term for a variety of conditions that can cause degeneration of the frontal lobes in the front and the temporal lobes on the side," Smith-Cohn said.

He said around 60,000 Americans have FTD, far fewer than the roughly 6 million who have the more common form of dementia known as Alzheimer's.

In a news release, Willis's family said: "Bruce's condition has progressed and we now have a more specific diagnosis: frontotemporal dementia. Unfortunately, challenges with communication are just one symptom of the disease Bruce faces. While this is painful, it is a relief to finally have a clear diagnosis."

"It has a few different causes with different types of proteins," Smith-Cohn said of frontotemporal dementia. "With the frontal lobe generation, you might see apathy. You might see changes in personality, you might see someone who never had a history of psychiatric disease such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder all of a sudden acting different. They're changing, they're more moody, they might be more impulsive. They might have more ritualistic behaviors."

Generally living a healthy lifestyle, including managing cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and vitamin levels can help reduce your risk of developing dementia.

While there is no treatment for FTD, there is help for those diagnosed.

In Great Falls, that includes Beehive Homes' Huckleberry Home. "This is an 18 bed facility. It is for those that have memory care issues," Beehive Homes owner Michael Kingsley said.

"Just getting to know them and see that side of them as a person, not just a resident who lives here, I love that," said Beehive Homes nurse Rochelle Brokl.

Willis's family said if Willis could, he would respond to his diagnosis by raising awareness about the disease and its impact.

"I think with health care in general, for a variety of conditions, often having someone well known can prompt and spark interest in fundraising in an under-served area. Certainly, dementia is a global problem with the aging population," Smith-Cohn said.

According to the World Health Organization, around 55 million people worldwide have dementia.

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