Bruce Willis' recently revealed diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia, a blanket term for a rare group of disorders caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain's frontal lobes, shocked and saddened many. One of those now reacting to the news: Patti Davis, daughter of the late Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who watched the former president endure his own battle with Alzheimer's. Now, in an essay for the New York Times, Davis writes of the "awe" she feels for Willis' family, who disclosed his condition, as well as "sorrow" for Willis—and also a "tug of fear" for what it might mean for his family in making his disorder public. She recalls her own mixed feelings when her mother phoned her in 1994 to let her know her father would be telling the nation he had Alzheimer's, five years after he'd left office.
"To my knowledge, no public figure had ever before revealed, in first person, that he had dementia," Davis writes, detailing feelings at the time that ranged from grief and fear for her father's condition, to pride and determination to help her father through it. Her concern for Willis' family lies in the erratic nature of the "radically different" FTD, which she notes can cause "aggressive" outbursts and "terribly inappropriate" behavior. Davis hopes that Willis' loved ones can simply offer him "a human wall of comfort to lean on," and that they can derive comfort themselves from the fact that by going public, they may be helping others. "There are others whom the Willis family will never meet, other families who have been invaded by this cruel disease, who today feel a little less lonely because of the decision to announce a diagnosis that rips your soul apart," she writes. Her full piece here. (Read more Patti Davis stories.)