PORTSMOUTH, Va (WAVY) – Actor Bruce Willis’s public battle with dementia is raising awareness about the deadly diagnosis and what’s out there to help people. The 67-year-old actor’s family revealed last week that he has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.

“The person living with this form of dementia has more trouble understanding words and producing words,” explained Denise Butler, Geriatric Assessment Coordinator at Riverside’s Martha W. Goodson Center for memory disorders and brain changes.

There are more than 100 forms of dementia. The most well-known is Alzheimer’s disease.
Unfortunately, most forms of dementia go undiagnosed for years.

“Our goal where we are is how do we give people the best support and the best quality of life,” Butler told WAVY.

Imagine a busy parking lot. It provides a good example of how to decipher normal aging versus possible dementia. Butler explained that occasionally forgetting where you parked is normal while forgetting that you drove to the store is not.

“About 50% of people living with dementia have no insight. This is not denial; they really truly do not understand that there is something changing with them and ‘Who are you to tell me there is something wrong with me, I am just fine’, ” she said.

Changes can be subtle. A person may forget to pay bills or pay them multiple times. They may have trouble following steps or sequencing, become the victim of a scam, lack impulse control, or withdraw from social activities.

“Sometimes their families or the person they’re living with or supporting them don’t even realize they’ve started to pick up some of the things that person used to do,” Butler said.

If you suspect something isn’t right, see a doctor. It may be something reversible such as Thyroid disease or a vitamin deficiency which can cause memory and balance and behavioral problems.

Dementia itself is not reversible and there is no cure, but lifestyle plays a big role both in how patients feel and prevention. Things like getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, exercising and socializing therapies and treatments can also keep people functional as long as possible.

These resources can provide more information on dementia and treatments:

Martha W. Goodson Center, Riverside

EVMS, Glennan Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology

Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration

Alzheimer’s Association