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Wendy Williams has primary progressive aphasia; what is it?

TV talk show host Wendy Williams on Nov. 7, 2014, arrives during the 2014 Soul Train Awards in Las Vegas. (Omar Vega/Invision/AP)

(WISH) — Last week, representatives for Wendy Williams revealed the media personality was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia.

So, what exactly is primary progressive aphasia?

According to the Weill Institute for Neuroscience at the University of California-San Francisco, primary progressive aphasia, aka PPA, is a condition that slowly damages the parts of the brain that control speech and language.

People with PPA usually have difficulty speaking, naming objects or understanding conversations.

The clinical symptoms of PPA are caused by degeneration in the parts of the brain that control speech and language (typically the left side of the brain in the frontal, temporal and parietal regions).

This type of aphasia begins gradually, with speech or language symptoms that vary depending on the brain areas affected by the disease. For example, in one type of PPA, people may initially have trouble producing speech, whereas, in another variant, word-finding and comprehension problems are more pronounced.

With primary progressive aphasia ,the impairments in language appear gradually and get worse over time. In many instances, the person with PPA may be the first to notice that something is wrong and the changes in language may initially be attributed to stress or anxiety. Symptoms vary from one person to the next.

Initial symptoms can include:

  • Slowed speech.
  • Word-finding hesitations.
  • Sentences with abnormal word order in speech or emails.
  • Substitution of words (e.g., “table” instead of “chair”).
  • Using words that are mispronounced or incomprehensible.
  • Difficulty understanding what words mean.
  • Difficulty following a conversation despite normal hearing.
  • Forgetting the names of familiar objects.
  • Inability to think of names of people, even though the person is recognized.
  • Semantic people with experience increasing trouble naming people, objects, facts and words.
  • Nonfluent/agrammatic (people with nfvPPA tend to come to the doctor’s office with complaints of difficulty pronouncing words.
  • Logopenic word-finding difficulties are the most prominent feature in patients with logopenic PPA.

These syndromes result from a variety of underlying diseases, but frontotemporal lobar degeneration (Alzheimer’s disease) is most often the cause.

The majority of people with PPA have problems expressing themselves with language, while their memory stays relatively intact, especially during the first two years of decline. Difficulties reading and writing may develop as the disease progresses.

The University of California-San Francisco Memory and Aging Center has found a small group of patients with PPA developed new creative skills in music and art as their language skills declined.