Facing the same possible fate as actor Bruce Willis, a Lisbon woman’s optimism helps her cope – InForum

Fargo – Teri Barta passed most of the tests during her last medical exam including the reflexology, tracing the body with his eyes and applying pressure to her doctor’s hands.

But she stopped when Dr. Tonya Harlow asked her to raise her arms and pull toward her.

“Ah, one minute,” Bartha said. “I should think about what you said.”

“Take your time,” Harlow said, before her patient could complete the task.

Barta was then asked to repeat the phrase “the orchestra played and the audience applauded,” causing her to falter and reach for the words.

“This was definitely a tough one,” said Harlow, MD, a neurologist and movement disorder specialist at Sanford Health in Fargo.

Barta, 70, of Lisbon, North Dakota, is dealing with aphasia, the same set of symptoms cited for prompting Hollywood actor Bruce Willis, 67, to quit his career at the end of March.

Harlow said aphasia is the loss of a person’s ability to communicate, whether that is speaking, reading, writing, or understanding language.

She said it is a symptom of many diseases, mostly stroke, but also brain injuries, infections, some tumors and dementia syndromes.

In Barta’s case, the diagnosis is primary progressive aphasia or PPA, a neurocognitive disease that falls into the realm of dementia.

Teri Barta with Dr. Tonya Harlow, a neurologist at Sanford Health, on April 19, 2022. Barta has primary progressive aphasia, a nervous system syndrome that affects the ability to communicate.

Chris Flynn / Forum

Her friendly, chatty demeanor is interrupted every now and then as she searches for easy-to-remember words.

“The funny thing is that I like to talk, obviously. And so it’s kind of like, ‘What?’ She laughed.

Barta said her symptoms first appeared sometime in 2017.

She had retired from her job at the local newspaper and was doing some teaching at preschool and alternative school.

Several times, her young students would notice and point out errors, for example, when she left out or added a letter to the alphabet.

Barta used to be an avid reader, and although she still scans newspapers and magazines, she doesn’t seem to stick with an entire book anymore.

Symptoms were mild at first, but gradually became more pronounced.

This was followed by a series of in-depth tests, including an MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which showed changes in the way her brain was working and helped indicate PPA.

Her older brother was diagnosed with PPA years ago and was convinced she had it, too.

“I’ll see what happens, and that’s not necessarily nice,” she said, referring to her brother’s condition.

But she joked that they would eventually have their own way of communicating, and “no one else would know.”

There is a possibility that Barta’s condition is genetic, Harlow said, given that her brother has the same disease.

Dr Tonya Harlow tests patient Terry Barta
Terry Barta meets with Dr. Tonya Harlow, MD, a neurologist at Sanford Health, on April 19, 2022.

Chris Flynn / Forum

“The expectation is that her symptoms will get worse over time,” she said, adding, “Each person’s course and how quickly this happens can vary.”

Barta was sad to hear that Willis was dealing with aphasia, but glad his situation and vision might bring more attention to him.

Therapy, menus and selection of joy

The only way to be 100% sure of PPA or dementia-related syndromes, Harlow said, is to do a brain biopsy, which obviously isn’t done on a living person, so the vast majority of diagnoses are hypothetical.

While not everyone can change genes, risk factors can be modified through lifestyle choices, including physical activity and a healthy diet.

Barta works on speech therapy nearly every day to stop further deterioration in language function.

You make lists of tasks you need to get done and often write an idea or idea that comes to mind.

“A couple of hours from now, you won’t remember what happened,” she said.

She walks and goes to the local seniors center for lunch several times a week for social interaction, and a good friend checks in every day.

Barta also cited her relationship with God and her sense of optimism to help her deal with the diagnosis.

“I decided that I would live the rest of my life with joy,” she said.

A constant decline in ability to communicate will come, but Harlow said her patient is equipped to handle the best she can.

“She has such a wonderful attitude…that would serve her well,” Harlow said.

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