Original Beastie Boys’ John Berry Dies at Age 52

John Berry, an original member of the hip-hop group Beastie Boys, has died. According to his father, John Berry III, John passed away at a hospice facility in Danvers, MA. He had suffered from frontal lobe dementia for several years, and had declined in the past few months.

Berry helped found the group in the early 1980’s when he met band-mate Mike Diamond at the Walden School in NYC. They added Adam Yauch and Kate Schellenbach, and Berry is credited with coming up with the group’s name. He played with them on their first EP, Polly Wog Stew, but left the group shortly thereafter. Both Schellenbach and Berry were later replaced by Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock). Berry became a member of several other bands, including Even Worse, Big Fat Love, Highway Stars and Bourbon Deluxe.

When the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, Berry’s contribution to the group was not left out. In a letter written Adam Yauch (read by Horovitz), thanked Berry for his contribution to the formation of the group. (Yauch died in May 2012 from cancer of the parotid gland).

What is Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) ?

LobesCaptsLateralFrontotemporal disorders (FTD) are caused by a family of brain diseases that primarily affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain; they account for up to 10 percent of all dementia cases. As it is defined today, the symptoms of FTD fall into two clinical patterns that involve either (1) changes in behavior, or (2) problems with language.

Some, but not all, forms of FTD are considered tauopathies. Tauopathies are conditions that can cause dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common tauopathy.  In tauopathies, a protein called tau clumps together inside nerve cells in the brain, causing the cells to stop functioning properly and die.

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning, which means the loss of the ability to think, remember, or reason, as well as behavioral abilities, to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Signs and symptoms of dementia result when once-healthy neurons (nerve cells) in the brain stop working, lose connections with other brain cells, and die. While everyone loses some neurons as they age, people with dementia experience far greater loss.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of frontotemporal disorders vary from person to person and from one stage of the disease to the next as different parts of the frontal and temporal lobes are affected. In general, changes in the frontal lobe are associated with behavioral symptoms, while changes in the temporal lobe lead to language and emotional disorders.

Symptoms are often misunderstood. Family members and friends may think that a person is misbehaving, leading to anger and conflict. For example, a person with FTD may neglect personal hygiene or start shoplifting. It is important to understand that people with these disorders cannot control their behaviors and other symptoms. Moreover, they lack any awareness of their illness, making it difficult to get help.
Behavioral Symptoms

  • Problems with executive functioning—Problems with planning and sequencing (thinking through which steps come first, second, third, and so on), prioritizing (doing more important activities first and less important activities last), multitasking (shifting from one activity to another as needed), and self-monitoring and correcting behavior.
  • Perseveration—A tendency to repeat the same activity or to say the same word over and over, even when it no longer makes sense.
  • Social disinhibition—Acting impulsively without considering how others perceive the behavior. For example, a person might hum at a business meeting or laugh at a funeral.
  • Compulsive eating—Gorging on food, especially starchy foods like bread and cookies, or taking food from other people’s plates.
    Utilization behavior—Difficulty resisting impulses to use or touch objects that one can see and reach. For example, a person picks up the telephone receiver while walking past it when the phone is not ringing and the person does not intend to place a call.

Language Symptoms

  • Aphasia—A language disorder in which the ability to use or understand words is impaired but the physical ability to speak properly is normal.
  • Dysarthria—A language disorder in which the physical ability to speak properly is impaired (e.g., slurring) but the message is normal.

People with PPA may have only problems using and understanding words or also problems with the physical ability to speak. People with both kinds of problems have trouble speaking and writing. They may become mute, or unable to speak. Language problems usually get worse, while other thinking and social skills may remain normal longer before deteriorating.

Emotional Symptoms

  • Apathy—A lack of interest, drive, or initiative. Apathy is often confused with depression, but people with apathy may not be sad. They often have trouble starting activities but can participate if others do the planning.
  • Emotional changes—Emotions are flat, exaggerated, or improper. Emotions may seem completely disconnected from a situation or are expressed at the wrong times or in the wrong circumstances. For example, a person may laugh at sad news.
  • Social-interpersonal changes—Difficulty “reading” social signals, such as facial expressions, and understanding personal relationships. People may lack empathy—the ability to understand how others are feeling—making them seem indifferent, uncaring, or selfish. For example, the person may show no emotional reaction to illnesses or accidents that occur to family members.

Is there any treatment?

No treatment has been shown to slow the progression of FTD. Behavior modification may help control unacceptable or dangerous behaviors.  Aggressive, agitated, or dangerous behaviors could require medication.  Anti-depressants have been shown to improve some symptoms.
What is the prognosis?

The outcome for people with FTD is poor.  The disease progresses steadily and often rapidly, ranging from less than 2 years in some individuals to more than 10 years in others.  Eventually some individuals with FTD will need 24-hour care and monitoring at home or in an institutionalized care setting.

Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke

National Institute on Aging

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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