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Wendy Williams’ Family Members Say They Weren’t Told of Her New Dementia Diagnosis (Exclusive)

The former 'Wendy Williams Show' host’s loved ones claim to PEOPLE they’ve been kept in the dark about details of her condition

<p>Roy Rochlin/WireImage</p> Wendy Williams

Roy Rochlin/WireImage

Wendy Williams

Wendy Williams’ family members claim her guardian and current medical team have kept them out of the loop about details of her life, including her location and the status of her health. 

On Thursday, a medical team for Williams, 59, released a statement about her current health condition.

“In 2023, after undergoing a battery of medical tests, Wendy was officially diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia (FTD),” read the press release issued by Jennifer Hanley of Ridge Hill Group. Williams' symptoms, which combined impact her language and communication, behavior and cognitive functions, “have already presented significant hurdles in Wendy’s life.” 

The news comes days ahead of Lifetime’s new documentary Where Is Wendy Williams? premiering Feb. 24. In this week’s cover story, Williams’ family tells PEOPLE that for months they've been kept in the dark about where Williams is and what exactly she has been struggling with. 

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

<p>Paras Griffin/Getty</p> Wanda Finnie on 'Where is Wendy Williams?'. ; Wendy Williams attends Wendy Digital Event at Atlanta Tech Village Rooftop on August 29, 2017.

Paras Griffin/Getty

Wanda Finnie on 'Where is Wendy Williams?'. ; Wendy Williams attends Wendy Digital Event at Atlanta Tech Village Rooftop on August 29, 2017.

“I don’t know, honestly. I don’t know," her sister Wanda Finnie, 65, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue when asked what exactly Williams, who is currently in a facility being treated for cognitive issues, has been diagnosed with.

According to Finnie, not long after the star’s court-ordered guardianship began in April of 2022, communication with her and the rest of the family was restricted. “It just appeared that all was cut off at that point,” she says.

Williams' guardian filed suit against Lifetime's parent company, A&E Television Networks, on Thursday, with details of the lawsuit under seal. The documentary's executive producer Mark Ford says "Wendy's attorneys and the guardianship attorneys were consulted and signed off" on the making of the documentary.

The last time the family received word on a specific diagnosis for Williams was in the fall of 2021, prior to the start of the star’s guardianship. Then on hiatus from the Wendy Williams Show, Williams spent time in Florida with family. 

“When she was in Florida, there were a number of people involved. Even beyond family, there were doctors involved, people in Wendy’s professional world that were involved,” says Finnie. “She had a health team in place, nurses in place and she had family in place. She was getting healthier.” 

Related: All About Wendy Williams' Son Kevin Hunter Jr.

In the documentary, her son Kevin Hunter, Jr., 23, who served as power of attorney at the time, says he was given a diagnosis by doctors his mom was seeing in Florida.

“Because she was drinking, I think they said it was alcohol-induced dementia,” Kevin Jr. says in the film. He claims to have been restricting Williams’ access to alcohol at the time.

"I care for my family a lot," the former talk show host states at one point in the documentary, adding, "Kevin hates that I care for liquor. He's very important to me."

Filmed between 2022 and 2023, the documentary follows the star's return to New York City at the start of her legal guardianship — Williams, an executive producer on the project, is shown to be living on her own while in the throes of alcohol addiction and struggling with her memory and ability to communicate.

For more on Wendy Williams, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday, or subscribe here.

Wendy Williams PEOPLE Cover
Wendy Williams PEOPLE Cover

"While heavy alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of dementia, aphasia is a syndrome that can be due to different underlying causes but not specifically alcohol use," says Dr. Marc Gordon, Chief of Neurology at Zucker Hillside Hospital Northwell Health in Long Island, NY, who did not treat Williams.

"Primary progressive aphasia are typically neurodegenerative diseases that are caused by abnormal protein accumulation in the brain, not directly caused by alcohol." However, alcohol abuse can be a symptom of the disorder, he says.

"It's been shown that people with frontotemporal lobe degeneration, specifically with primary progressive aphasia, may develop impulsive behaviors that include alcohol use," he explains.

<p>Lifetime</p> Wendy Williams in Lifetime's 'Where Is Wendy Williams?'

Lifetime

Wendy Williams in Lifetime's 'Where Is Wendy Williams?'

“It’s hard to watch,” Williams' niece Alex Finnie, 33, tells PEOPLE of heartbreaking scenes in the doc. Her family feels as though they could have helped Williams more, if given the chance. 

“I don’t think there’s anyone Wendy needed more than her family,” says Wanda, who says that she herself was being considered to serve as guardian before the court decision came down. 

“Separate the money part: All I want to know is that my sister is going to live and that she’s going to be healthy," she says. "The concern of the family has always been Wendy’s health.”

In the documentary, Williams briefly reunites with her family during a short return to Florida in 2022. She's shown to struggle with her memory and communication throughout the visit and while her family encourages her to stay, she returns to her apartment in New York. There she continues to abuse alcohol before Lifetime producers decide to stop filming, they say out of concern for her health.

<p>T.JACKSON / BACKGRID</p> Wendy Williams

T.JACKSON / BACKGRID

Wendy Williams

The family agrees that Williams appears to be doing much better now that she is receiving treatment in an undisclosed facility from which she calls them weekly. They remain concerned with their lack of access and communication. 

During a Feb. 22 interview on The View, the star’s niece Alex said Williams is required to call her family members from a blocked phone number, meaning they can’t reach out directly to her. 

<p>Lifetime</p> Wendy Williams and niece Alex Finnie in 'Where Is Wendy Williams?'

Lifetime

Wendy Williams and niece Alex Finnie in 'Where Is Wendy Williams?'

“And I say this honestly, we went through birthdays, we went through the holidays, we went through illness,” Finnie added. “There was a period when my grandfather was in the hospital — there was no way to contact her and let her know what was going on with her 93-year-old father.”

That said, Alex tells PEOPLE that when they do speak, Williams has sounded “really great.” Wanda states similar in the documentary. “She’s in a much better place now, but it shouldn’t have taken a year and a half.”

Where Is Wendy Williams? premieres Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.

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