Being one of the least common forms of dementia, not as many people are aware of frontotemporal dementia. The term itself covers a group of conditions. Let’s examine this condition in greater detail so that you know what signs to be aware of and what kinds of treatment are available.
What is Frontotemporal Dementia?
This form of dementia covers a range of disorders, all related to progressive cell loss within the brain’s front or temporal lobes. Since these areas are specifically affected, individuals begin to experience a number of symptoms affecting language, behavior, and emotion which are discussed below. The different subtypes include:
- Behavior variant frontotemporal dementia
- Primary progressive aphasia, affecting language
- Disturbances of motor function
Although this type of dementia is far less common than conditions like Alzheimer’s, it occurs more often in younger individuals under the age of 65. This form of dementia is typically diagnosed between the age of 45 and 65, affecting men and women equally.
Symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia
Since this form of dementia affects both the frontal and temporal areas within the brain, early symptoms can affect behavior or language. In terms of behavior, everyone is unique. Some individuals may become more withdrawn while others will lack the ability to restrain their behaviors. It’s important to look for some of the most common behavioral changes, including:
- Social behavior that’s inappropriate
- A loss of insight
- Decreased energy
- Changes in food preferences
- Noticeable changes in personality
- Becoming increasingly distracted
While focusing on language, symptoms range from speaking less often to losing one’s ability to speak. Individuals often have trouble finding the right words, becoming easily confused. Stuttering and repeating the words of others is common, as well as changes in one’s ability to read and write.
Unlike Alzheimer’s, issues with memory do not generally surface within the early stages. Symptoms regarding behavior and language may occur separately, overlapping as one’s condition progresses. Once the later stages have developed, this is when symptoms of dementia become apparent, including memory loss, hindered motor skills, and confusion.
Causes of Frontotemporal Dementia
At this time, the cause of this condition is not fully understood. It’s assumed by researchers and experts that a combination of lifestyle factors, genetics, and medical factors are responsible. Unlike Alzheimer’s which tends to become more common with age, this is not the case regarding frontotemporal dementia.
When analyzing autopsy studies, it appears that nerve cell death occurs due to clumps of proteins known as tau. In terms of genetics, this condition tends to run in families more than other forms of dementia. It’s estimated that approximately one-third of people who have this form have a family history of dementia.
There are no specific treatments to target the subtypes of frontotemporal dementia, however, there are medications that can reduce symptoms, such as depression, agitation, and irritability. These treatment plans focus on improving quality of life, not curing the condition itself.
Since this form of dementia affects different areas of the brain, cholinesterase inhibitors used for Alzheimer’s do not generally work. In order to manage symptoms more effectively, it’s important to understand changes that are occurring, especially for those who are caring for the affected individual.
Caring For a Loved One with Frontotemporal Dementia
It’s important for family members and caregivers to understand this condition so that they can properly cope and care for their loved one. Caregivers will not to adjust to changes in their relationship while monitoring inappropriate behavior, coping with inflexibility, and learning how to effectively communicate.
Maintaining communication is important and professionals can assist you regarding this area. You will need to adjust your approach as this condition progresses. Speak slow and use shorter sentences that will not create as much confusion. For example, instead of asking would you like a coffee or would you prefer a tea, simply ask, do you want a tea?
Gestures or workbooks with pictures tend to work well for some. Since everyone will progress differently and suffer from varying symptoms, a speech therapist and other experts in the field can provide guidance. You can also reach out to self-help and support groups to increase your knowledge and understanding.
Alzheimer Society. (2015). Frontotemporal Dementia. Alzheimer Society Canada. Retrieved from http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/Dementias/Frontotemporal-Dementia-and-Pick-s-disease
Holland, K. and Krucik, G. (2013). Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments of Frontal Lobe Dementia. Healthline. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/frontal-lobe-dementia-symptoms-causes-treatment