What Is Frontotemporal Dementia?

You’ve probably heard of Alzheimer's disease. It may be the most common kind of dementia. But there are other types that are less well-known. 

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is one of them. It tends to affect people between the ages of 45 and 60.

Dementia is a serious loss of thinking abilities. It causes problems with daily activities like working, driving, and cooking. Frontotemporal dementia affects the parts of the brain that control social skills, decision-making, and judgment.

It’s different from Alzheimer's. If you have it, you won’t lose your memory at first. But you might act differently or do strange things. You may find it hard to focus or get motivated. Your personality might become different. Over time, you could find it hard to walk, talk, plan activities, work, and take care of yourself.

But when you know what to expect, that can help you and your family prepare for the changes to come.

What Causes It?

Scientists don’t know for sure. But it starts when nerve cells in two parts or “lobes” of the brain -- the front and the side -- die. That causes the lobes to shrink.

Doctors believe FTD may be genetic. About 4 out of 10 people who have it also have a relative who had it or some other form of dementia.

What Are the Symptoms?

It’s hard to say which ones you’ll have first. It depends on where the damage in your brain starts. If it strikes the part that controls decision-making, you might first have trouble managing your money. It could start in the part of your brain that connects your emotions to objects. If it does, you might not recognize that something is dangerous.

Your family may notice you’re acting strange before you do.

Other possible symptoms of FTD include:

  • Emotional problems
  • Loss of interest in things
  • Withdrawing from others

These tend to get worse over time as more parts of the brain are affected.

How Is It Diagnosed?

It can be hard to figure out if someone has FTD. That’s because it often mirrors other disorders, like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, depression, and schizophrenia.

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See a doctor about any strange behavior. He’ll ask about medications and family history. He may also do blood tests to rule out other medical problems. He might refer you to a neurologist, who will check things like your balance, reflexes, memory, and thinking.

And he may order one or more of these tests:

  • EEG (electroencephalogram). This measures the electrical activity in your brain.
  • CT scan.It shows a detailed image of your brain, made with X-rays.
  • MRI . This uses magnets and radio waves to create images of your brain.
  • PET scan . It shows how your brain is working.
  • Spinal tap. This samples fluid around your brain and spinal cord.

 

Living With FTD

The condition is not life-threatening. But you should find a doctor who knows how to manage it as soon as possible. Speech experts, physical therapists, and nurses may be able to help, too.

You should also think about doing these things:

  • Ask your doctor whether medications can help.
  • Find a support group.
  • Share information with family and friends.
  • Get a driving evaluation.
  • Exercise and eat healthy foods.

Doctors are learning more about this kind of dementia, which may lead to better diagnosis and care.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on November 12, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Frontotemporal Dementia.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Frontotemporal Dementia.”

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine: “Frontotemporal Dementia.”

National Institute on Aging: “Common Symptoms,” “Frontotemporal Disorders: Information for Patients, Families, and Caregivers.”

The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration: “Disease Overview,” “Evaluation and Diagnosis,” “Fast Facts about Frontotemporal Degeneration.”

University of California, San Francisco: “Frontotemporal Dementia.”

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