The sea change in Bradley Bishop happened almost overnight. “In February 2005, (Bradley) became suddenly ill, was diagnosed with encephalitis, and he was in ‘neuro’ intensive care for about 12 days,” said his mother Susan Bishop in a telephone interview from her home in Owatonna, Minnesota. Brad was 24, an Augustana College graduate, and, until being hospitalized, worked full-time doing computer work for a business in South Dakota. After his hospitalization, doctors believed he would gradually recover from encephalitis.
Said Bishop, “But when we brought him home from the hospital, he acted like a junior high-age person. He was arrogant, defiant, and very demanding. If he wanted something, he wanted it now.” Rather than improve over the next two months, Brad’s behaviors worsened, his personality changed, and he was completely unaware of the changes. A neurologist said the Bishops were babying their son by not letting him return to work, but they knew better. To find explanations for his rapid deterioration, they desperately sought medical help. Eventually, Brad ended up spending four months in a brain injury program, but during that time Bradley only deteriorated. He was no longer the person they once knew.
Bishop said, “At that point, we put on the table at home several MRIs (brain scans) that had been taken (of Bradley) at different times from different hospitals. You literally could see the size of his brain shrinking.” In early 2007, a Mayo Clinic neurologist diagnosed frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), which the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (AFD) website defines as a disease process resulting “in progressive damage to the anterior temporal and/or frontal lobes of the brain.” It affects 50,000 Americans and primarily causes behavior and language dysfunction rather than the memory dysfunction associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Today at 31, Brad “isn’t able to function in daily activities,” said Susan. “He’s unable to feed himself, is incontinent, can speak few words, and is confused.” Five years ago, doctors predicted he would live perhaps two years, yet he has lived through end stage FTD three years now and been in hospice care four years. The Bishops placed him in hospice after being physically unable to control his many erratic behaviors, which included his once trying to leave a car rapidly moving down a highway.
Bishop said caregivers of those diagnosed would benefit greatly from educating themselves about the disease and seeing a behavioral neurologist.