Wendy Williams Asks for 'Personal Space and Peace' amid 'Overwhelming' Response to Dementia Diagnosis (Exclusive)

Williams' care team announced her diagnosis on Thursday, saying that the former talk show host was diagnosed last year and the disease has "already presented significant hurdles in Wendy's life"

<p>Lars Niki/Getty</p> Wendy Williams attends the 2019 NYWIFT Muse Awards on December 10, 2019 in New York City.

Lars Niki/Getty

Wendy Williams attends the 2019 NYWIFT Muse Awards on December 10, 2019 in New York City.

Wendy Williams is publicly addressing her primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia diagnosis for the first time.

In a statement exclusively obtained by PEOPLE on Friday, Williams, 59, thanked fans for their "overwhelming" support in the hours following the news.

"I want to say I have immense gratitude for the love and kind words I have received after sharing my diagnosis of Aphasia and Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)," she said. "Let me say, wow! Your response has been overwhelming. The messages shared with me have touched me, reminding me of the power of unity and the need for compassion."

"I hope that others with FTD may benefit from my story. I want to also thank the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration for their kind words of support and their extraordinary efforts to raise awareness of FTD," Williams added. "I continue to need personal space and peace to thrive. Please just know that your positivity and encouragement are deeply appreciated."

<p>Santiago Felipe/Getty</p> Wendy Williams visits SiriusXM Studios on September 6, 2018 in New York City.

Santiago Felipe/Getty

Wendy Williams visits SiriusXM Studios on September 6, 2018 in New York City.

Related: Wendy Williams, 59, Diagnosed with Aphasia and Frontotemporal Dementia, per Her Medical Team

Williams' care team announced her dementia diagnosis on Thursday. In a press release, the former talk show host's team said she received her diagnosis last year and the conditions “have already presented significant hurdles in Wendy's life.”

“Wendy is still able to do many things for herself,” the team said in a statement. “Most importantly she maintains her trademark sense of humor and is receiving the care she requires to make sure she is protected and that her needs are addressed. She is appreciative of the many kind thoughts and good wishes being sent her way.”

According to Mayo Clinic, aphasia "robs you of the ability to communicate" and "can affect your ability to speak, write and understand language, both verbal and written." The group adds that the condition "typically occurs suddenly after a stroke or a head injury. But it can also come on gradually from a slow-growing brain tumor or a disease that causes progressive, permanent damage (degenerative)."

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is an all-encompassing term for a group of brain disorders that threatens the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. This means that parts of these lobes atrophy, and the shrinking of these areas can cause speech issues, emotional problems and changes in personality. Other symptoms can include loss of motor skills — problems walking, swallowing or muscle spasms. Symptoms tend to get worse over time. Patients typically begin to notice symptoms between 40 - 65 years of age, but it can affect people who are younger. It is the most common form of dementia for people under 60.

<p>Calvin Gayle</p> Wendy Williams in 2022

Calvin Gayle

Wendy Williams in 2022

Related: Wendy Williams' Family Break Their Silence on Her 'Shocking and Heartbreaking' Struggles Over the Past 3 Years (Exclusive)

Williams has dealt with a number of ongoing health issues, including Graves' diseaselymphedema and alcohol abuse. She entered a facility to treat "cognitive issues" in April 2023 and has been appointed a court-appointed legal guardian.

Her sister Wanda Finnie and niece Alex Finnie told PEOPLE in this week's cover story that they have seen a positive change in her condition, though they were unaware of her FTD diagnosis due to the limited contact they have with Williams in the facility. (While staying at the undisclosed location, Williams’ family say they've been unable to contact her due to the guardian's rules, which require Williams to reach out first from a blocked phone number.)

"She sounds really great. To hear my aunt now in terms of just how clear she is, just how focused she is on the importance of family and the reality in terms of facing and understanding where she's at physically and mentally and emotionally, it is like a 180," Alex said.

"I don't know what is working, but I do know that when she did reach out to me, it was a person who is remarkably different than what we see in that documentary," Wanda added, referring to Where Is Wendy Williams?, Lifetime's new documentary filmed between August 2022 and April 2023.

Wendy Williams PEOPLE cover
Wendy Williams PEOPLE cover

Related: Wendy Williams Struggled with Alcohol During Her Show: 'She Would Be Drunk on Air,' Says Source (Exclusive)

The documentary was set to premiere on Saturday, but following the news of her dementia diagnosis, Williams' court-appointed guardian filed a lawsuit seeking to halt its release.

That effort was denied by an appeals court Friday afternoon, after which the network confirmed in a statement to PEOPLE that they plan to move forward with the debut of the documentary. “Lifetime appeared in court today, and the documentary Where Is Wendy Williams? will air this weekend as planned," the network said.

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Where Is Wendy Williams? executive producer Mark Ford previously confirmed to PEOPLE that the guardian initially signed off on the production of the series (on which Williams is also listed as an executive producer).

The docuseries' trailer teased a look inside Williams’ life and health off screen. Many scenes showed her family members confronting Williams over alcohol use.

For Williams, the documentary is a way to share her honest narrative, according to Alex. “She said, now is the perfect time because I want to take ownership of my story,” Alex said on Thursday’s episode of Good Morning America.

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