Former Perham mayor and attorney living with FTD, same diagnosis as Bruce Willis

A longtime mayor and attorney from Perham lives with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, the same disease recently diagnosed in actor Bruce Willis.

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Terry Karkela, left, sits with his wife, Mary, at Perham Health memory care unit. Terry has frontotemporal dementia, known as FTD. The former lawyer and mayor of Perham was diagnosed 6-years ago.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News

PERHAM, Minn. — Mary Karkela tried to comfort her husband Terry Karkela on Friday afternoon, Feb. 24 in Perham.

"You're doing good, you know that, you're doing good," she said.

Terry and Mary Karkela should be living out retirement by spoiling their grandchildren or traveling the world. Instead, Terry Karkela is in a memory care unit at Perham Health. The diagnosis of behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, known as FTD, came six years ago.

It's the same illness that has hit Bruce Willis. Willis' family on Feb. 16 announced that the actor's condition had progressed as a result.

Mary Karkela said her husband started to lose interest in things.


"He couldn't do stuff with fishing, like reading the depth finder like he used to, so it was behavior," Mary Karkela said.

When WDAY News visited Terry Karkela in 2019, he could have a conversation

"I deal with it on a day-by-day basis," Terry Karkela said at the time.

Now Terry Karkela, the community mover and shaker, is silent.

"If I see some spark in his eyes, that is how I pretty much communicate with him, he can still walk, very ambulatory, he will walk a lot, " Mary said, as Terry stood up and wandered.

Terry Karkela was a longtime attorney and spent years as Perham's mayor. Now, he can't even talk to family.

"That is exactly right, there are times I wonder, how did this happen? Those (early days) are the ones I want to remember," Mary Karkela said.

It is hoped that the Willis announcement of his FTD will mean more progress in research of this dementia.


For Terry Karkela, his room is a reminder of what is lost; art work from precious grandkids, family photos and globe-hopping vacation pictures. All signs and symbols that so many love him. A family that still hopes there is a way, some way he feels it.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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