Inside Wendy Williams' Frontotemporal Dementia Diagnosis: Her Life Expectancy and Signs She Was Struggling

Williams' care team on Thursday announced the diagnosis in an effort 'to correct inaccurate and hurtful rumors about her health.'

There are some sad and harsh realities facing Wendy Williams amid her aphasia and frontotemporal dementia diagnosis (FTD), and complicating those matters is the tragic fact that FTD is an incurable disease, meaning that, almost in an instant, the beloved former talk show host's life expectancy has been cut drastically.

Dr. Allison Reiss, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Grossman Long Island School of Medicine and an Alzheimer's Foundation of America's Medical, Scientific and Memory Screening Advisory Board Member, spoke with ET's Kevin Frazier to offer her medical expertise pertaining to Williams' prognosis, a disease that remains a mystery to the medical community.

"We do not know what causes it. We know that it happens in people younger than, say, Alzheimer's disease," Reiss says. "There is some literature that people with thyroid issues may be more likely to have frontal temporal dementia, and we definitely know Wendy Williams has a history of thyroid problems that I think you can see in her eyes. She has some, what looks like thyroid eye disease to me."

Reiss is quick to note she hasn't treated Williams and has never met her, but she deduces as much based on her expertise coupled with her observation of Williams on TV throughout the years.

"I watched her show when I saw her at different stages," Reiss continued. "You can really see what has happened. But we don't have this information and I know that -- because of Bruce Willis -- we are really moving forward more. We need to get some research dollars to look into this."

Bruce Willis was diagnosed with FTD last year. On Thursday, Williams' care team announced that she was also diagnosed with the disease in 2023, and they now decided to come forward with the diagnosis in an effort "to correct inaccurate and hurtful rumors about her health."

The disclosure also comes just days ahead of Lifetime's two-part documentary, Where Is Wendy Williams?, which is executive produced by the former Wendy Williams Show host. In the trailer for the upcoming two-night event, Williams, at times, appears composed and coherent but also frazzled and frustrated.

"The cognitive function stays longer, but eventually you lose that and the result for all of these is the same, which is losing pretty much everything," Reiss explains. "And then it is a fatal disorder, somewhere around seven to nine years."

For years now, Williams has struggled with her health -- from her battles with Graves' disease to lymphedema. Williams also checked into a treatment facility in June 2023 to confront her battle with alcohol addiction, a move prompted by concerns from her son about the potential fatal consequences of her addiction. 

"This disease may have some environmental contributions, but fundamentally we couldn't blame that," said Reiss when asked if Williams' past substance abuse contributed to her diagnosis. "What I would say is that some of the things that she did probably killed off a lot of nerve cells ahead of time. And we have what's called cognitive reserve. So, the more that you have built-up the longer it takes for a disease like this to give you symptoms. So, if you've depleted some of your nerve cells already, you might show symptoms a little sooner than you would have otherwise."

The Lifetime documentary trailer also seems to have exposed other alarming signs.

"You see that she's getting more frail. She's not making as much sense, being as coherent, and you can see that the priorities of her life change as she really does recognize that the fame and the fortune -- when you are in this kind of situation -- it doesn't really have the meaning that it has to be with people who love you and care about you," Reiss says. "I think that was a lot of the message that I took from it."

In light of the tough road ahead, Reiss offers the Williams family some advice as they come together to help her get through this disease.

"Give her love, give her affection, give her support, value her, and value everything that she has of herself, that is, that remains," she says. "And keep her in environments that feel safe and comfortable for her, and make sure she just knows that she's loved and do everything you can the way that the Willis family has."

Where Is Wendy Williams?, a four-and-a-half-hour, two-night documentary event, will premiere Saturday, Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.


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