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DAYS OF OUR LIVES Martha Madison Opens up About Her Mother’s FTD Dementia

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Actress Martha Madison is a polished, seasoned performer, and she’s faultless as Belle Black on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. When Madison speaks about her personal life, as she did as the keynote speaker at the May 3rd AFTD (Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration) conference in Los Angeles, her speech was punctuated by laughter and tears as she reflected on her mother’s illness and her family’s journey through the uncharted waters of Frontotemporal Degeneration, a type of dementia that effects people under the age of 60. 

The actress and her two sisters were raised by a single parent, Barbara “Barb” Baggs, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when Madison was six years old. Baggs, who was artistically, mathematically, and musically talented, struggled through the ups and downs of the chronic disease, but refused to let it stop her. When Madison was young, her mother would often serenade the three girls (Martha, Alison and Bo) to sleep by playing the guitar and singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” to them. 

Her mother raised all three women to be like her; strong, independent and self-reliant. Although the family enjoyed a loving relationship filled with respect and laughter, Baggs wasn’t a “touchy-feely” parent. During Madison’s speech, she reflected that she saw her mother cry only once, and that was when she boarded the plane from Houston to study acting in New York City in 1999. In 2001, Madison traveled home to Houston to spend time with her mother. They had planned a night out,  but then the unthinkable happened. Baggs didn’t arrive home from work, and her guests had been waiting for quite a while. “This was unusual, as she was excessively punctual,” Madison explained. “Now, keep in mind that cellphones were not yet the norm, so I had no way of getting in touch with her. I did finally receive a call, on our house landline. It was a gas station attendant, telling me that my mother was there and she appeared lost. When she got on the phone she said in a very measured and unusually calm way, ’Don’t freak out. Everything’s fine, you just need to come and get me.’ It turned out that the gas station was three blocks from the house.” 

Baggs’ doctors initially thought that the occasional forgetfulness and other symptoms were stemming from the MS. As time went on, the symptoms progressed where Madison’s mother had difficulty telling time and began suffering from mood swings and delusions. The family banded together to take care of their only parent; Bo moved her mother to Dallas so that she could physically watch over her and take care of her needs. By this time Alison was living in Anchorage, Alaska, with her family and Madison had move to Los Angeles to play Belle Black on DAYS. Both sisters would make visits to see their mother, and contribute emotional and financial support to their sister. “None of us had any idea how intense Bo’s new duties would become but our mom taught us to be strong,” the actress explained.

After an episode where Madison’s mother confessed to her daughter Alison that she was contemplating suicide, the entire family met with the mother’s neurologist. He recommended that Baggs be committed to a psychiatric hospital for a few weeks to be evaluated. During this time, the doctors were able to adjust her anti-depressant dosage, which created an immediate and positive impact. During the followup visit with the neurologist, the doctor was finally able to diagnose her with FTD. “He made the diagnosis from experience,” Madison revealed. “His mother had just died from FTD. He recognized the symptoms as the hallmarks of the disease.”

11 years after the first symptom appeared, Madison’s mother is being taken care of in a memory care facility and thriving. She receives constant visits from her children and grand children. Frontotemporal Degeneration can easily be mistaken for a different type of dementia, or in Madison’s mother’s case, as an offset of MS. For the complete list of symptoms and for more information about the disease, please visit their site.

For more on your favorite DAYS stars, keep reading Soaps In Depth Magazine.

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