What is Frontotemporal Dementia?

Alzheimer’s disease tends to get the most press as a form of dementia, but there are several other types as well. It is worth becoming familiar with these alternative forms of dementia as the symptoms, treatments, and expected progression can vary wildly between them. Here we will focus on frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which is one of the less common forms, but it can be severe and complex.

FTD Defined

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In general, FTD is a broad term used to describe dementia symptoms when they arise in connection with damage to certain parts of the brain (the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe).

There are several subtypes of FTD, each of which is linked to specific abnormalities in the affected lobes. The details of each subtype are somewhat complicated and may vary depending on the type of categorization used (some organizations recognize different numbers of subtypes). So, to keep things simple, we will examine common traits shared among most kinds of FTD.

Causes of FTD

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FTD tends to develop earlier than other dementias, with most people being diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 65 years old. Researchers have yet to identify a cause of FTD. It appears to be linked to the atrophy (wasting away) of brain cells in the frontal and temporal lobes. Genetics and protein deposits are suspected to play a role, but not much else is known about the cause(s) of FTD.

FTD Symptoms

Like other forms of dementia, FTD symptoms can be minor and hard to detect at first. It impacts the parts of the brain responsible for behavior, planning, problem-solving, emotional control, speech, and recognition, so impairments may arise in a wide variety of ways. However, in contrast to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, FTD rarely involves a significant loss of memory skills until the later stages.

There are two main groups of symptoms that occur in FTD, with some subtypes being more highly associated with one or the other.

  1. Behavioral Symptoms

Changes in personality and behaviors are common symptoms across several types of FTD. Examples include:

  • Apathy (Loss of usual interests)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Decreased empathy
  • Poor social conduct (out of character)
  • Repetitive and/or compulsive behaviors
  • Impaired impulse control
  • Binge eating

      2. Language Symptoms

  • Lack of ability to comprehend language (sometimes without impairment in producing speech)
  • Problems producing speech (sometimes without impairment in language comprehension)
  • Uncharacteristic grammar errors
  • Trouble understanding complex sentences but not single words
  • Slow, hesitant speaking

Late-Stage FTD

FTD’s progression is often unpredictable in terms of timeline, though the disease is associated with a slightly longer life expectancy than other dementias. The various subtypes of FTD begin to greatly resemble each other in the later stages, as both behavioral and language symptoms become more frequent and intense in the majority of cases.

Near the end of life, FTD follows a similar course to Alzheimer’s disease. Afflicted persons will become less able to communicate, eventually resulting in little to no speech at all. Motor impairments will progress to the point of immobility, agitation may become common, and full-time care will almost certainly be required.

Awareness and Detection

One of the major benefits of detecting symptoms of abnormal cognitive impairments early in their development is that it provides the opportunity to be professionally assessed and have the underlying condition confirmed. FTD, Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and similar afflictions require different courses of treatment, and early diagnosis will allow for the most effective therapy to be quickly identified. A self-assessment tool like the BrainTest® app can be used to monitor cognitive health from home, providing both peace of mind and the means to quickly detect the signs of abnormal cognitive decline when they first appear.

Steven Pace writes extensively in the fields of neuroscience, mental health, and spirituality. He is an experienced academic writer and researcher from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, having obtained his BSc. (Psychology Major) from Cape Breton University in 2010. Steven takes pride in being able to assist others in navigating topics concerning the human mind.

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