The links between aphasia, dementia and Alzheimer’s explained

Actor Bruce Willis’ family are going through a situation many have to come to terms with. The Die Hard star has been diagnosed with dementia, a condition that currently affects some 900,000 people living in the UK.

While the diagnosis is in no way diminished by the fact it often follows on from aphasia, which the actor had already been known to be suffering from, it highlights the link between the conditions. It was in March 2022 that Willis’ family announced he had the communication disorder and would be stepping away from acting.

Now, less than a year later, it has been confirmed that the 67-year-old has frontotemporal dementia (FTD). This form of the neurodegenerative condition is a lot less common than the likes of Alzheimer’s and is only responsible for around one in 20 cases of dementia.

The symptoms of FTD are distinct from many other types of dementia, with most sufferers still able to remember recent events in the early stages. Unlike Alzheimer’s, one of the most pervasive signs of FTD is apathy, displaying as a lack of concern for others or lack of initiative.

FTD affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for personality, behaviour, language and speech. It’s easy to see how this could be connected to aphasia, which impacts talking and writing.

Abnormal proteins build up in the brain and damage cells, eventually causing them to die. This in turn leads to atrophy or shrinkage of the frontal and temporal lobes. Research has demonstrated there’s a genetic link to FTD, putting those with a family history of the condition more at risk.

As the disease progresses, the symptoms become more akin to those associated with late-stage Alzheimer’s. These can include problems with movement, as well as the well-documented memory issues.

Like other forms of dementia, there’s no cure for FTD, with treatments focusing on managing its progression and coping with the symptoms. At present, life expectancy post diagnosis ranges from two to ten years.

A Willis family statement said: “Bruce always believed in using his voice in the world to help others and to raise awareness about important issues both publicly and privately.

“We know in our hearts that - if he could today - he would want to respond by bringing global attention and connectedness with those who are also dealing with this debilitating disease and how it impacts so many individuals and their families.

“Bruce has always found joy in life - and has helped everyone he knows to do the same.”

Photo credit: Pixabay/masbebet christianto


Back to help & advice

Find your nearest Barchester care home

With over 200 care homes in the UK, there's always a Barchester care home near you.