The dementia community has a new advocate who is willing to talk about the difficult disease: actor Bruce Willis.
The word “dementia” is associated with an image of a frail, elderly person living the twilight of their life in a care facility or with their loved ones, unable to provide for themselves. Yet with the recent revelation of Willis’ diagnosis of fronto-temporal dementia (FTD), we are reminded that dementia is not restricted to our elderly, but can afflict many of us for various reasons.
The iconic actor’s wife is being vocal about the diagnosis and the paucity of treatment options available.
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Other dementias may be the result of an infectious or malignant process such as meningitis, HIV, or sequelae from certain types of cancer. Dementias may also occur in younger patients who have survived a major brain event, such as significant or repetitive trauma or ruptured brain aneurysms.
When dementia strikes, the onset is usually gradual. Occasionally a person will suffer a rapid deterioration in their cognitive abilities, though typically the early stages are subtle. Often the individual will chalk their forgetfulness to a busy life, or just part of “getting older.” As memory issues progress, the individual may become increasingly unaware of their cognitive limitations and thus create tension within the family.
Early on in the course of dementia, it may even be difficult for the treating physician to recognize the issue without the assistance of the patient’s loved ones. Certain dementias, such as the subset Willis reportedly suffers from, will manifest as personality changes and severe mood swings, posing an additional challenge for those caring for the patient.
When dementia strikes, the onset is usually gradual. Occasionally a person will suffer a rapid deterioration in their cognitive abilities, though typically the early stages are subtle. Often the individual will chalk their forgetfulness to a busy life, or just part of “getting older.”
What was once considered an inevitable and irreversible part of aging is now recognized as a complex disease with various treatment possibilities that offer hope for our patients. But there is still more work to be done. As Americans are living longer, it’s time we talk about it.
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