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Talk show host Wendy Williams has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia (PPA) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images
  • Wendy Williams has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and dementia.
  • The announcement follows years of speculation about the talk show host’s health.
  • Experts say an early sign of primary progressive aphasia can be problems with speech.
  • Following a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk for dementia.
  • However, the condition is progressive, and there is no known cure.

On February 22, 2024, it was announced via a press release that talk show host Wendy Williams had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia (PPA) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

According to the National Institute on Aging, PPA affects a person’s ability to speak, read, write, and understand speech. It can also lead to slurred speech, or a person may become unable to speak at all.

FTD can create problems with memory, reasoning, and judgment. It can also cause changes in behavior.

Her care team stated in the press release that they were making the announcement in response to “inaccurate and hurtful rumors about her health.”

The 59-year-old star, who has received several Daytime Emmy nominations for her long-running talk show, The Wendy Williams Show, was the subject of 2020 media reports detailing an incident where she was having problems speaking and called singer Adele “Hodele.”

There were also reports in 2022 of Williams drinking heavily and seeming incapable of comprehending that her popular talk show had been canceled.

A newly released documentary, Where Is Wendy Williams?, highlights her cognitive and emotional decline in the time leading up to her 2023 diagnosis of PPA and FTD.

It also addressed that she has been living with lymphedema and Grave’s disease.

In the press release, her team stated that she is currently receiving medical care at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Additionally, they noted that Williams remains able to do many things for herself but is receiving care to make sure she is protected and has her needs taken care of.

“The decision to share this news was difficult and made after careful consideration,” they wrote, “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.”

Dr. Joel Salinas, Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology at NYU Langone Health and Chief Medical Officer at Isaac Health, said that FTD can present in various forms, including those that affect language.

“Early symptoms of FTD with aphasia can be subtle and often go unnoticed because they might mimic everyday issues,” he explained.

“For instance, individuals may begin to experience difficulty finding the right words during conversations, which could easily be mistaken for stress or fatigue,” said Salinas. “There might also be changes in social behavior, such as diminished empathy, making inappropriate comments, or withdrawing from social interactions, which can be dismissed as mood swings or personal choices.”

Salina went on to note that people with FTD might experience lapses in their cleanliness or grooming, but these could be rationalized away as simply laziness.

“Some might start repeating words or engaging in compulsive behaviors (e.g., gambling), which may not immediately be recognized as symptoms of a neurological condition,” he added.

Other signs, according to Salinas, could be changes in dietary preferences. For example, a person might start overeating or develop a taste for sweets that wasn’t there before.

“Finally, the condition may also present with changes in motor function affecting movement,” he stated, “such as frequent falls or symptoms of weakness or rigidity that can sometimes resemble Parkinson’s disease.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, about 10 to 15 out of every 100 people with FTD have a faulty gene that causes the disease. If your parent has that gene, there is a 1 in 2 chance you will inherit it.

However, it causes the behavioral variant of FTD rather than the PPA variant that Williams has, so it mainly affects the person’s behavior rather than their speech.

Genetic testing can help you assess your risk for this form of FTD.

Dr. Gary Small, a memory, brain, and aging expert at Hackensack Meridian Health, said that there are also other factors that affect your risk of developing dementia.

“Although genetics play a role, as with any dementia, potentially modifiable lifestyle behaviors can reduce risk and delay symptom onset, including regular physical exercise, healthy diet, stress management, not smoking, and mental stimulation,” he explained.

Unfortunately, once you have the condition, there is little you can do, according to Small.

“The disease has no cure, and as the illness progresses, patients lose their ability to remember and reason and develop movement problems, including balancing and swallowing,” he stated. “Patients also are at risk for depression and may develop inappropriate social behavior.”

The care team for former talk show host Wendy Williams recently announced that the star has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia.

This comes after several years of rumors about the state of her mental health.

Early symptoms are subtle and can go unnoticed but may include such things as speech difficulties, mood swings, or social withdrawal.

Certain lifestyle behaviors can reduce your risk and delay the onset of symptoms. These include exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, managing stress, not smoking, and getting adequate mental stimulation.

However, the condition is progressive and has no known cure.