Actor Bruce Willis Now Suffers with Dementia - Year After Aphasia Forced Retirement

According to his family, Bruce Willis, the actor who gained popularity with the TV Show "Moonlighting" and later became an action movie hero, is now diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. As it progresses, he will require supervision and help with daily living activities.

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Actor Bruce Willis Now Suffers with Dementia - Year After Aphasia Forced Retirement
4 Min Read March 30th, 2022 Updated:February 16th, 2023

We know him as Detective John McClane in the iconic Die Hard movies; actor Bruce Willis is now facing a struggle that could be a match for his movie action hero persona. 

Actor Bruce Willis now has frontotemporal dementia. In March 2022, Willis stepped away from acting after being diagnosed and suffering from the effects of Aphasia. Aphasia is a brain disorder that damages portions of the brain responsible for language and speech. 

His family, including his ex-wife Demi Moore and daughter Rumer Willis, announced his condition has progressed. The letter, signed by the "Ladies of Willis/Moore" family, said:

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.

What is FTD?

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a form of dementia that affects areas of the brain known as the frontal and temporal lobes. These areas of the brain are involved in making judgments, behavior, and language, so FTD can cause significant behavioral and language problems. It is the most commonly diagnosed form of dementia among people under 60. 

FTD – Robbing Those Under 60 of Their Very Essence

The cause of FTD is still unknown, but research suggests that a genetic or environmental factor may be involved. Symptoms of FTD vary but may include apathy, lack of insight, changes in judgment, difficulty speaking, disinhibition, or changes in personality or behavior. 

Treatment for this condition usually involves a combination of medications, cognitive therapy, and support for both the patient and their caregivers. Additionally, lifestyle changes, including engaging in physical activities, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, avoiding stress, and staying socially connected, can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. 

FTD is Progressive Without a Cure

FTD is a progressive condition with no known cure, so it's crucial for people diagnosed with it to get the proper care and support. With the right help and lifestyle changes, people with FTD can continue to lead meaningful and active lives. 

The family, in an online statement, said:

FTD is a cruel disease that many of us have never heard of and can strike anyone. 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. Today there are no treatments for the disease, a reality that we hope can change in the years ahead. 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.  

Willis started with symptoms of Aphasia which impairs the expression and understanding of language and affects the ability to read and write. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that Aphasia usually occurs suddenly, often following a stroke or head injury. However, it can also develop slowly, resulting from a brain tumor or a progressive neurological disease. Aphasia may co-occur with other speech disorders, resulting from brain damage.

Last year the family shared how difficult it was dealing with his health changes.

"This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support," his family said in a statement.

Aphasia does not typically lead to or develop into FTD. The estimated prevalence of FTD in the United States is approximately 80,000 to 200,000 people. FTD is estimated to affect approximately 200,000 to 1. 5 million people worldwide. The exact prevalence of FTD is challenging to determine due to underdiagnosis and other factors.

Around one million Americans suffer from Aphasia, according to the NIH, and around 180,000 people are diagnosed with it every year. There is no cure for Aphasia, and the problems with communication can last a lifetime in some situations.

Care Costs Can Mount

If Willis's care focuses primarily on supervision or help with daily living activities, the costs will become out of pocket. While Willis reportedly has substantial financial resources, his family will face the same stress and burdens other American families face when a loved one needs long-term health care. 

Unlike Willis, most American families see both a financial and family crises when dealing with long-term care. Health insurance, including Medicare and supplements, pays only for a limited amount of skilled care services. Most long-term health care is custodial - meaning help with daily living activities or supervision due to memory decline. These costs are not covered by traditional health insurance. 

Medicaid will pay for long-term care services if the care recipient has little or no income and assets. Long-Term Care Insurance will also pay for care, including in-home care, but the insurance must be obtained well before any health or age-related decline. Most people purchase LTC Insurance in their 50s.

Willis - Movie Action Hero

Bruce Willis fans remember him from many of the top-grossing action movies of all time. His personality portraying wisecracking or hard-edged characters was memorable throughout the decades. His start as an action movie star followed his role as TV's private eye "David Addison" in "Moonlighting" in the 1980s. The chemistry between him and Cybill Shepherd in the hit romantic comedy television series made him a star.

Then came the big screen in the 1988 movie "Die Hard" as he played New York City detective "John McClane." Numerous sequels made Willis a superstar.

Willis had some flops, as many actors do, but then he returned to hit movies like "Pulp Fiction," "12 Monkeys," "The Fifth Element," "The Sixth Sense," and the mega-hit "Armageddon."

He appeared in several "B" rated movies where media reports indicated that Willis had problems remembering lines and his performances were less than Willis-like. While treatment may improve Willis's condition, based on the family's public statement about his cognitive health, it appears unlikely he will return to acting. 

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Editor's Note

The reality of aging often brings with it a decline in health. This can be gradual or sudden, such as after a stroke or other health event. It can mean needing help with everyday activities and even an increased risk for dementia. 

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