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Was Wendy Williams’ dementia caused by alcoholism? Experts share insights

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Was Wendy Williams’ dementia caused by alcoholism? Experts share insights

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Former TV talk show host Wendy Williams, 59, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and aphasia, which impairs the ability to communicate, in 2023, a representative confirmed on Thursday.

Given Williams’ reported history of alcoholism, experts are speaking out about the potential link between her alcohol abuse and current cognitive issues.

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Thursday’s announcement of Williams’ diagnosis came ahead of a new Lifetime documentary — titled “Where Is Wendy Williams?” — that will premiere on Saturday, as her representative aims to “correct inaccurate and hurtful rumors about her health.”

WENDY WILLIAMS CONTROVERSY: INSIDE DEMENTIA, EXPLOSIVE DOCUMENTARY, FAMILY WAR TO VISIT TALK SHOW QUEEN

Williams entered a facility in April 2023 to allegedly treat “cognitive issues” reportedly due to alcohol abuse, as her family communicates with her through a court-appointed legal guardian.

“In 2023, after undergoing a battery of medical tests, Wendy was officially diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia (FTD),” Williams’ care team stated in a press release.

Wendy Williams attends a private dinner at Fresco By Scotto on Feb. 21, 2023, in New York City. The former TV talk show host has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and aphasia. (Getty Images)

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“Aphasia, a condition affecting language and communication abilities, and frontotemporal dementia, a progressive disorder impacting behavior and cognitive functions, have already presented significant hurdles in Wendy’s life.”

Fox News Digital reached out to Williams’ team requesting additional comment. 

Link between alcohol and brain health

Dr. Suzette Glasner, PhD, a psychologist in Los Angeles, California, has not treated or examined Williams but said heavy drinking and alcoholism can cause damage to both white and gray matter in the brain, and over time can lead to deteriorating cognitive functioning, including dementia.

“These neurocognitive impacts are a result of a combination of alcohol’s direct neurotoxic effects, depletion of nutrients in the body, impacts on liver functioning and disruption of communication between nerve cells in the brain,” Glasner told Fox News Digital.

WHAT IS FRONTOTEMPORAL DEMENTIA, THE DIAGNOSIS BRUCE WILLIS HAS RECEIVED?

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When heavy and chronic alcohol use leads to brain damage, an individual can experience problems with their attention, memory and reasoning, the expert said.

“In many cases, individuals who misuse or are addicted to alcohol and drugs struggle with overlapping chronic medical and psychiatric conditions, and this can make it very challenging to determine the etiology or cause of neurocognitive symptoms such as those observed in Wendy Williams,” Glasner said.

wendy williams against a dark background

Thursday’s announcement of Williams’ diagnosis came ahead of a new Lifetime documentary — titled “Where Is Wendy Williams?” — that will premiere on Saturday, as her representative aims to “correct inaccurate and hurtful rumors about her health.” (lya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Wilhelmina Models)

Neuropsychiatric symptoms including cognitive impairment are common in Grave’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder Williams has spoken about battling over the years.

“Those symptoms often improve with treatment; however, like other chronic diseases, alcohol or drug use can complicate or interfere with treatment response, making improvements less likely,” noted Glasner. 

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Elizabeth Landsverk, M.D., a geriatric and dementia expert in San Francisco, also has not treated Williams but said that substance misuse has been previously linked to cognitive decline. She also noted that the extent of its impact isn’t clear.

“Not enough research has been conducted on the matter to give us precise data,” she told Fox News Digital.  

“What has been noted is that alcohol abuse — as well as taking a number of other medications — does increase the risk of developing dementia.” 

What amount of alcohol is dangerous?

Brain damage and neurocognitive impacts can occur with heavy drinking in individuals with moderate or severe alcohol use disorders, Grasner said — “so there is a wide variation between individuals in the quantity of alcohol that leads to these neurotoxic effects.”

“The specific reasons that some individuals develop alcohol-related dementia whereas others do not are not well understood, so we don’t currently have guidelines specifying that if you drink a certain amount, you are likely to experience cognitive impairments,” she added. 

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Woman drinking beer

Brain damage and neurocognitive impacts can occur with heavy drinking in individuals with moderate or severe alcohol use disorders, an expert said. (iStock)

Women are generally more vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain and body, Glasner noted, which means the onset can occur at a younger age than it would in men.

“Expert evaluation of the contribution of substance use and other underlying medical conditions such as Grave’s Disease to cognitive symptoms would be very important for Williams to ensure that she receives the right treatments at the right time,” Glasner recommended.

STUDY FINDS THAT PROTEINS MAY PREDICT WHO WILL GET DEMENTIA IN 10 YEARS BASED ON BLOOD SAMPLES

“Often involving a family very closely to evaluate the symptoms and the timing of their emergence relative to alcohol or other substance use can be helpful as part of determining an accurate diagnosis and plan of care,” she added.

Abstinence from alcohol is a crucial part of treatment for alcohol-related neurological deficits, noted Glasner.

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“In many cases, individuals who misuse or are addicted to alcohol and drugs struggle with overlapping chronic medical and psychiatric conditions.”

If the condition is caught in time, abstaining from alcohol can at least partially, if not fully, reverse the symptoms, according to the expert.

Living with FTD and aphasia

While symptoms of FTD can vary depending on what part of the brain is affected, most people with the condition experience some common symptoms, as listed on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website. 

Behavior or personality changes are often the most obvious indicators. These may include public outbursts or socially inappropriate actions.

DEMENTIA AMONG YOUNGER PEOPLE IS LINKED TO 15 FACTORS, MAJOR STUDY REVEALS

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People with FTD also tend to have impaired judgment, a lack of empathy and lower self-awareness, Johns Hopkins states. 

This type of dementia is also marked by a reduced ability to understand or formulate language.

virtual volumetric drawing of brain in hand

Heavy drinking and alcoholism can cause damage to both white and gray matter in the brain, and over time can lead to deteriorating cognitive functioning, a psychiatrist said. (iStock)

People may struggle to remember the names of objects, string words into sentences or even recall the meanings of words they used to know. 

The condition can also lead to agitation, irritability and drastic mood swings.

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There is no treatment for FTD other than managing symptoms and educating family members and caregivers, according to Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute in New Jersey.

Some aphasia symptoms can be managed with speech therapy.

“The specific reasons why some individuals develop alcohol-related dementia whereas others do not are not well understood.”

“Treatment focuses a great deal on family education,” said Reena Gottesman, M.D., a behavioral neurologist at the Center for Brain Loss and Memory Health at Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute, in a press release.

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Approximately 50,000-60,000 people may have FTD, per data from the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit group based in Chicago.

Recently, actor Bruce Willis’ FTD diagnosis brought new attention to the rare condition.

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Health

Health weekend roundup: A mother's health mission, sleep-blocking foods, heat illnesses and more

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Health weekend roundup: A mother's health mission, sleep-blocking foods, heat illnesses and more

Fox News Digital publishes an array of health pieces all week long to keep you in the know on a range of wellness topics: health care access, innovative surgeries, cancer research, mental health trends and much more — plus, personal stories of people and families overcoming great obstacles.

Check out some top recent stories in Health as your weekend continues — and prep for the week ahead.

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These are just a few of what’s new, of course. 

There are many more to see at http://www.foxnews/health

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Utah mom fights for her daughter’s access to ‘life-saving’ medication

For Ruby Smart, 15, Levemir is the insulin medication that works best to control her type 1 diabetes — but the manufacturer is discontinuing it. 

Alison Smart is on a mission to protect her daughter’s access to the drug. Click here to get the story.

Utah mother Alison Smart (in green sweater, pictured with Ruby Smart, age 15) is fighting for her teenage daughter’s access to diabetes medicine. (Alison Smart/iStock)

CDC warns of extreme heat dangers

Is extreme heat a public health threat? 

Fox News Digital reports the findings in the latest Mortality & Morbidity Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including a spike in emergency room visits due to heat-related illness. Doctors chime in on the potential risk. Click here to get the story.

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Many regions across the United States experienced “record-breaking high temperatures” in 2023 due to extreme heat, according to the CDC. (iStock)

Surprising reason for sleep struggles

If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, you might be overlooking one important lifestyle factor. 

Two sleep specialists reveal essential ingredients for high-quality sleep. Click here to get the story.

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What you eat can have an impact on how well you sleep at night, experts say. (iStock)

The girl who can’t smile

Tayla Clement, 26, was born with a rare disorder that has made it impossible for her to smile — but she says she is grateful for it. 

The New Zealand woman discusses with Fox News Digital how she overcame trauma and learned to celebrate her differences. Click here to get the story.

Tayla Clement split image

Tayla Clement, born and raised in New Zealand, has Moebius syndrome, a neurological disease that affects one child out of every 50,000 to 500,000. (Tayla Clement)

‘Forever chemicals’ found in water across US

A new study found that higher amounts of PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances) were found in drinking water in certain parts of the U.S. 

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Public health experts weigh in on the risks of the toxic chemicals. Click here to get the story.

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PFAS “hot spots” were concentrated in the Midwest, New England and the West Coast, the researchers found. (iStock)

Pick-me-ups to beat the midday slump

Is the “post-lunch coma” slowing down your productivity? 

A nutritional biologist shares six proven energy-boosters to to prevent post-meal fatigue. Click here to get the story.

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This week’s health recap includes stories about heat hazards, a mother’s fight for her daughter’s diabetes medication, and a little-known disruption of healthy sleep. (iStock / Alison Smart)

Drinking pure orange juice is linked to surprising benefits

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Nutritionists reacted to the findings. Click here to get the story.

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Americans need more sleep and less stress

Many U.S. adults are getting too little sleep and have too much stress, according to a new Gallup poll. 

Dr. Marc Siegel of New York and a sleep expert and behavioral scientist discuss the connection between disordered sleep and dangerous stress levels. Click here to get the story.

Tired woman at computer

The poll showed that 63% of Americans who reported wanting more sleep also “frequently experience stress.” (iStock)

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Americans need more sleep, less stress, experts say, as Gallup poll reveals troubling findings

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Americans need more sleep, less stress, experts say, as Gallup poll reveals troubling findings

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Many Americans are getting too little sleep and have too much stress.

A new Gallup poll revealed 57% of adults would “feel better if they got more sleep,” while 42% said they get “as much sleep as they need.”

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These findings have nearly reversed in the last decade, Gallup noted in a press release. The last measurement in 2013 found that 56% of Americans got the sleep they needed while 43% did not.

LACK OF SLEEP COULD BE A FACTOR IN A ‘SILENT EPIDEMIC,’ EXPERTS WARN

Overall, however, Americans are getting fewer hours of sleep than they did in past decades.

In 1942, 59% of Americans were getting eight hours or more of sleep per night, while only 3% were getting five hours or less.

Fifty-seven percent of adults said they would “feel better if they got more sleep,” a new Gallup poll revealed. (iStock)

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In 2024, only 25% of Americans get an average of eight hours of sleep, and 20% reported sleeping for five or less.

Young women are the least likely to get enough sleep, according to the study — with 36% of females versus 48% of males reporting getting enough shuteye.

SLEEP DISORDERS AND SUICIDE: A MENTAL HEALTH EXPERT REVEALS THE CONCERNING LINK

Sleep amounts for both men and women showed “significant declines from previous readings in 2013 and 2004,” according to Gallup — and are the lowest measured for each group to date.

The decline was found across all age groups, although young adults between ages 18 and 29 saw the smallest difference.

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Stress-sleep connection

Gallup suggested that an uptick in stress could be driving this downward trend in sleep, as the American Psychological Association reports a “strong connection between stress and sleep quality.”

The poll showed that 63% of Americans who reported wanting more sleep also “frequently experience stress.”

Tired woman at computer

Women are most likely to frequently experience stress, the Gallup poll found. (iStock)

“Over the past 30 years, the number of Americans who are stressed has been on a steady incline after a sharp drop in 2003,” Gallup reported.

“The most recent data show that nearly half of all Americans, 49%, report frequently experiencing stress — up 16 points over the past two decades and the highest in Gallup’s trend to date.”

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Young women are also most likely to frequently experience stress, “exceeding men their age by 14 points,” according to Gallup.

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, confirmed this relationship between sleep and stress, calling it the “cycle of worry” during a Thursday appearance on “America’s Newsroom.”

dr. marc siegel on america's newsroom

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, discussed the relationship between sleep and stress during a Thursday appearance on “America’s Newsroom.” He noted that exposure to the blue light of smartphone screens can keep people awake, among other issues. (Fox News)

“They’re connected,” he said. 

“If you get more stressed, you don’t sleep; if you don’t sleep, you get more stressed.”

Siegel explained that “all of this spirals out of control,” since sleeplessness is often remedied with caffeine — yet caffeine “interferes with your sleep cycle.”

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“If you get more stressed, you don’t sleep; if you don’t sleep, you get more stressed.”

The same goes for drinking alcohol before bed to induce sleep, which “wears off and you wake up in the middle of the night,” the doctor warned. 

Exposure to the blue light of smartphone screens can keep people awake, Siegel said.

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“All of this is very bad for health,” he said. “It leads to heart disease, it increases your risk of stroke, it causes you to gain weight.”

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For young women in particular, several factors could be causing them to lose sleep, including the use of social media, which can “feed anxiety,” Siegel said.

Man on phone

A potential fix to ending the sleep-stress cycle is practicing “sleep hygiene,” said one doctor, which includes sleeping in a dark room away from your cellphone. (iStock)

A potential fix for the sleep-stress cycle is practicing “sleep hygiene,” Siegel suggested, which includes sleeping in a dark room away from your cell phone.

“I treat stress and sleeplessness as the same thing,” he said. “That’s why I don’t believe in sleeping pills … You’re just covering up the problem.”

He added, “I want to get at why you’re worried and what I can do about the worry.”

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Dr. Wendy Troxel, a Utah-based sleep expert and senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation, told Fox News Digital in an interview that stress levels have remained “very high” since the COVID pandemic.

“[For] populations navigating multiple demands, including young people who are going to school or starting new jobs in this topsy-turvy world, it’s understandable that they are experiencing increases in stress, and that’s manifesting increases in sleep disturbances,” she said.

dr. wendy troxel headshot

Dr. Wendy Troxel, senior behavioral scientist at RAND Corporation, is also the author of “Sharing the Covers: Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep” and scientific advisor for sleepfoundation.org. “As a culture,” she said, “we’ve become more aware of the importance of sleep over the past 10 years, which is a great thing.” (Diane Baldwin)

In some instances, Troxel pointed out, lack of sleep has been worn as a “badge of honor” to prove that people are busy or productive.

“But I think that that cultural misconception is starting to wane,” she said.

“The reality is, as a culture, we’ve just become more aware of the importance of sleep over the past 10 years, which is a great thing.”

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To break the “vicious cycle” of stress impacting sleep and vice versa, Troxel offered several tips, including maintaining a consistent sleep and wake schedule to ensure that stress doesn’t “invade your life.”

Incorporating a wind-down routine prior to bed can also bring down stress levels, the sleep expert noted.

These routines can involve relaxing activities such as deep breathing exercises, cuddling with a partner, journaling, doing gentle yoga or listening to music.

man meditates at night on his bed

Wind-down activities before bed can include deep breathing exercises, cuddling with a partner, journaling, doing gentle yoga or listening to music. (iStock)

“It’s just about finding something that you can ritualize and do on a nightly basis to set the stage … to put aside all the demands and stress of the day and prepare for winding down and [going] to sleep,” Troxel said.

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For people who wake up in the middle of the night due to stress, she advised getting out of bed, performing a wind-down activity and then returning to bed.

This technique, called stimulus control, prevents the brain from forming the habit of waking up at a certain time to ruminate on stressful thoughts.

“We all have occasional stress-related sleep disturbances, but if that starts happening night after night, it becomes habit-forming,” she said. 

“And that’s where we see more chronic problems like insomnia. So, if you see that happening, treat it as a habit that your brain is learning — and break it.”

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