Bruce Willis and his Diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia

Bruce Willis was always the movie hero who ended up saving the world. His retirement was recently announced due to aphasia. We now know the definitive diagnosis of his condition. What will his life be like from now on?
Bruce Willis and his Diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 27 February, 2023

They say that Bruce Willis had to use multiple strategies to shoot his latest films. He had an advantage in that the movies he usually plays in are action-packed, so long dialogues are unusual. Despite this, the difficulties he experienced in memorizing the scripts became increasingly evident.

For this reason, the scriptwriters tried to make their sentences shorter. Willis also used headphones in which a prompter reminded him what to say. In addition, he undertook specialized therapy to make it easier for him to remember the scripts. However, in March 2022 his final withdrawal was announced, due to the language disorder, aphasia.

This condition always appears due to some type of brain damage. It’s been Willis’s family, who recently, via social media, announced the conclusive diagnosis of his condition: frontotemporal dementia. He’s only 67 years old, and his life will inevitably change in the coming years.

“Today there are no treatments for the disease, a reality that we hope can change in the years ahead. As Bruce’s condition progresses, we hope the media attention can be focused on shining a light on this disease that needs far more awareness and research.”

-The family of Bruce Willis-

Bruce Willis and his wife
Bruce Willis’s family is his greatest support during this difficult time in his life.

Frontotemporal dementia

Since Bruce’s family announced his aphasia diagnosis in the spring of 2022, they claim “his condition has progressed.” Indeed, the recent statement from the family made it clear that his communication problems were only the symptom of an underlying problem. Now, in a way, they’re relieved because they know what they’ll have to face in the coming years.

The problem with frontotemporal dementia is that it’s a neurodegenerative disease about which we still don’t know too much. Research conducted by various European universities highlights the need to join forces for the development of better care mechanisms.

Here’s what we do know at the moment about this condition.

The cause

Frontotemporal dementia is triggered by the accumulation of the tau biomarker along with other proteins. These elements destroy brain cells located in both the frontal and temporal lobes. However, we don’t know why this alteration occurs.

The disorder is a type of early-onset dementia, occurring between 45 and 64 years of age. Over the last ten years, diagnostic techniques for the condition have improved. It should be noted that it’s not as common a neurodegenerative disorder as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s: are they the same?

There are different types of dementias. Although there are similarities between frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s, they exhibit certain differences.

  • In frontotemporal dementia, the amyloid proteins and neuritic plaques associated with Alzheimer’s don’t appear.
  • At the onset of frontotemporal dementia, the memory remains intact, as do visuospatial functions, unlike Alzheimer’s patients.

Sadly, these two conditions influence both the personality and functionality of the sufferer. Indeed, they’re disorders that have a tremendous impact, limit the life expectancy of the patients, and for which there’s no cure.

“This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion, and support.”

-The family of Bruce Willis-

brain illuminated with colors
Frontotemporal dementia alters the personality of the sufferer to the point that it’s often diagnosed as a psychiatric problem.

What will his life be like from now on?

From now on, Bruce Willis’s life will no longer be the same. Dementias create scenarios of enormous sadness, both for sufferers and their families. The latter are daily witnesses of the wear and tear of the slow but inevitable transformation of their loved one into an extremely different person.

Despite the inexistence of treatments that prevent the progression of this condition, Bruce Willis has the best drug known to date, affection from his environment. He’s also lucky enough to have financial means as well as the support of the American Association for Research on Frontotemporal Dementia. Nevertheless, the progression of the disease is inevitable.

As a rule, this neurodegenerative disease manifests as follows:

Language and planning disorders

The most notable characteristics of frontotemporal dementia are echolalia (repetition of words), stereotyped language, and mutism. Gradually, it becomes more difficult for the sufferer to understand the messages they receive and their communication becomes poorer.

Likewise, it’s common for them to experience problems in planning, sequencing their thinking, establishing priorities, and focusing their attention.

Changes in personality and behavior

Due to the striking changes in behavior, this type of dementia is often confused with a psychiatric disorder. Sufferers’ behavior becomes increasingly disinhibited. They do and say inappropriate things. Another symptom that’s exhausting for the family of the sufferer is their loss of affection toward others.

In effect, there’s an impoverishment in terms of recognition and expression of emotions. Behavior oscillates between apathy and hyperactivity. On the other hand, personality changes are extremely similar to those of Alzheimer’s.

Motor problems

In addition to progressive limitations in balance and gait, a recurring effect of this condition is progressive supranuclear palsy. This consists of eye movement problems. It becomes hard for the sufferer to look up and down. In addition, they find it difficult to swallow. There’s also the risk of the complication of pneumonia.


While, in the case of Alzheimer’s, there are treatments that can (slightly) slow down the course of the disease, the same isn’t true in the case of frontotemporal dementia. As the family of Bruce Willis has pointed out, it’s a neurodegenerative condition about which there’s still little research.

Drugs are usually given to reduce the patient’s irritability, agitation, and depression. The support of physiotherapists and speech therapists is also of great help. However, the progression of the disease is inevitable. As a rule, life expectancy is around ten years (sometimes a little more) from diagnosis.

In the early stages, the biggest problem is the loss of language. This doesn’t necessarily mean that for a while at least, Bruce Willis can’t continue to enjoy his life, family, and connection to the world. For the rest of us, we’ll always have his movies and unique sense of humor.

Editorial credit: Denis Makarenko /Featureflash Photo Agency

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Tauopathies: new perspectives and challenges, Molecular Neurodegeneration, 10.1186/s13024-022-00533-z17, 1, (2022).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.