1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Aphasia, dementia: What was Wendy Williams diagnosed with?

February 23, 2024

Former US TV host Wendy Williams has been diagnosed with aphasia and dementia. The American celebrity has struggled with health issues for years.

Wendy Williams
Williams' care team said they announced the diagnosis to spread awareness of aphasia and FTDImage: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IP/picture alliance

American media personality Wendy Williams has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), her care team announced in a press release on Thursday.  

"Over the past few years, questions have been raised at times about Wendy's ability to process information and many have speculated about Wendy's condition, particularly when she began to lose words, act erratically at times and have difficulty understanding financial transactions," her team wrote.  

Williams, the former host of "The Wendy Williams Show," received her diagnosis last year, according to the statement.  

Her care team explained they chose to share the news to "to raise awareness about aphasia and frontotemporal dementia."

"Unfortunately, many individuals diagnosed with aphasia and frontotemporal dementia face stigma and misunderstanding, particularly when they begin to exhibit behavioral changes but have not yet received a diagnosis," the team wrote. 

Wendy Williams
Wendy Williams has had various health issues for yearsImage: Diego Corredor/MediaPunch/picture alliance

Other stars have faced the same conditions. Hollywood actor Bruce Willis announced his retirement from acting in 2022 after receiving an aphasia diagnosis. In 2023, his family also announced he had FTD.  

Aphasia affects all linguistic abilities

Aphasia is the acquired inability to formulate words or comprehend language. It can occur after damage to the left side of the brain. Aphasias are usually caused by a stroke. However, brain hemorrhages or craniocerebral injuries, like those that occur after an accident, brain tumors or inflammatory processes can also result in aphasia. From one day to the next, a person loses the ability to communicate with words.

The sudden loss of speech affects all linguistic abilities. This means speaking and understanding, as well as reading and writing are affected.

Aphasia is strictly a language disorder; thought processes or intellectual abilities are not or only slightly disturbed.

For those affected and their loved ones, the situation is extremely stressful. Patients can no longer name even the most mundane things in life. They know what an object is, but simply lack the words for it.

Different forms of aphasia

There are many types of aphasia. They can be distinguished from each other based on the extent of the damage.

Amnestic aphasia

Amnestic aphasia is the mildest form of aphasia, in which those who suffer from it have word-finding difficulties when naming objects directly. They mask the speech disorder by, for example, paraphrasing the words or using figures of speech.

Broca aphasia

People who speak in a staccato or telegram style, using very short, simple sentences or stringing together individual key words, may suffer from Broca aphasia. Although the flow of speech is strained and slowed down by the search for suitable words, the affected person can still be understood comparatively well.

Wernicke aphasia

People who suffer from Wernicke aphasia form very long, convoluted sentences in which individual passages are sometimes repeated. Those affected seem to speak fluently, but it is very difficult for them to find the right words, and often their sentences do not make sense. That makes them difficult to understand.

Global aphasia

People with global aphasia often speak only single words or repeat the same phrases. With this, the most severe form of aphasia, the patient can hardly be understood at all.

Wendy Williams  stands in front of a building holding out her starry dress
Williams started her career as a radio DJImage: Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP/picture alliance

Therapy partially possible

Aphasia, an acquired speech disorder, is not irreversible, but it requires a lot of training in targeted speech therapy to learn to speak, and often also to write again.

Especially after a first stroke, about one third of the patients experience a largely normalization of speech functions within the first four weeks. After that, however, the chance of improvement declines steadily.

What is FTD? 

Frontotemporal dementia, or FTD, is an umbrella term for a group of brain diseases that impact the size of the brain's frontal and temporal lobes, which are associated with personality, behavior and language.  

When a person experiences FTD, parts of those lobes shrink. This can result in behavior that can read as socially inappropriate or impulsive, depending on which part of the brain is affected. According to the Mayo Clinic in the US, FTD generally affects people who are younger than those typically diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a disease that's often misdiagnosed as FTD. Williams is 59.  

Symptoms of FTD worsen over time. It is largely unknown what causes it, although some research has indicated a genetic link. Many patients who develop FTD are the first in their family to receive the diagnosis.  

This article was originally written in German.

Edited by: Andreas Illmer, Derrick Williams