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Wendy Williams diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia​ and frontotemporal dementia

Wendy Williams reveals dementia diagnosis
Wendy Williams reveals dementia diagnosis: A glimpse into her future 03:55

Wendy Williams has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. Williams had taken a leave from her talk show in 2021 while she dealt with health issues, and in 2023, after undergoing "a battery of medical tests," she was diagnosed with the conditions, which affect language, communication behavior and function, according to a news release.

Williams, 59, had been open to the public about her Graves' Disease and lymphedema diagnoses. She initially took an indefinite leave from her long-running talk show, "Wendy," which premiered in 2008. In 2022 it was announced that Sherri Shepherd would take over the show as host.

"I want to say I have immense gratitude for the love and kind words I have received after sharing my diagnosis of Aphasia and Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).  Let me say, wow! Your response has been overwhelming. The messages shared with me have touched me, reminding me of the power of unity and the need for compassion," Williams said in a statement released Friday evening. "I continue to need personal space and peace to thrive.  Please just know that your positivity and encouragement are deeply appreciated."

Wendy Williams
File photo of Wendy Williams Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Wiliams' care team shared the health update on Thursday "to correct inaccurate and hurtful rumors about her health." She was on occasion seen unable to form words and acted erratically, including during tapings of her talk show, which left many fans concerned and confused. 

What is aphasia?

Aphasia leaves patients struggling to understand language and communicate. The condition gained widespread attention when actor Bruce Willis revealed his diagnosis in 2022. He later revealed he was also diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.

Aphasia is related to damage on the left side of the brain and is usually a symptom of other medical issues like stroke, head injury or tumor, or develops due to a degenerative brain condition, according to Mayo Clinic.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia, also known as FTD, describes a group of brain disorders that affect the brain's frontal and temporal lobes, which are associated with personality, behavior and language, Mayo Clinic explains. 

Some people with FTD show dramatic changes in their personalities and can "become socially inappropriate, impulsive or emotionally indifferent, while others lose the ability to use language properly," Mayo Clinic says.

"Oftentimes patients can just present with behavioral problems, their personality can change," Dr. Gayatri Devi, a clinical professor of neurology at Northwell Health who specializes in dementia, explained on "CBS Mornings." "But as opposed to something like Alzheimer's, there's no clear test to definitively make the diagnosis."

It tends to affect people in their 50s and 60s, as opposed to Alzheimer's, which generally emerges at older ages.

"There is some genetics to all dementia, but genetics is not your destiny," Devi noted. "...Genetics is one part of it, but there's a whole other bunch of other things you can do to prevent dementia."

FTD accounts for about 10% to 20% of dementia cases, with about 50,000 to 60,000 people diagnosed with FTD year. 

It may be under-diagnosed, Dr. David Agus told CBS News after Willis' diagnosis. It is a progressive disease that will worsen and can require a lot of care, he said. 

Wendy Williams documentary and guardianship

Williams' team said the decision to make her diagnoses public was a difficult one, but they decided to do so "not only to advocate for understanding and compassion for Wendy, but to raise awareness about aphasia and frontotemporal dementia and support the thousands of others facing similar circumstances."

They said Williams can still do many things for herself and "maintains her trademark sense of humor." She is receiving the care she needs, they said.

Willams received a court-appointed guardianship after Wells Fargo alleged in 2022 she was of "unsound mind," according to Entertainment Tonight. The bank alleged she was under "undue influence and financial exploitation," but Williams has denied these claims. 

Her son, Kevin Hunter Jr. has also raised concerns about the guardianship. Her manager, Will Selby, refuted the claims to ET saying she is not being taken advantage of. 

In the trailer for a two-part documentary on Williams' life airing on Lifetime Feb 24 and 25, Williams is seen talking about her finances. "I have no money," she says, distressed. Her family also appears to raise concerns about her guardianship. 

"I love being famous. But family is everything. Everything," Williams says in the trailer. 

–Sara Moniuszko contributed to this report.

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