Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is one of the lesser known forms of dementia diagnosed today. Also, commonly known as Pick’s disease, this form of dementia is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of uncommon brain disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes. These areas of the brain are most often associated with language, behavior, and personality.
The name “frontotemporal” is appropriate because it identifies the part of the brain that is damaged with this type of dementia. The frontal lobes in the brain (located behind the forehead) primarily deal with behavior, emotion, planning, and problem-solving. The left frontal lobe, specifically, controls a person’s speech. That said, frontotemporal dementia refers to a number of disorders that cause nerve cell damage leading to the loss of various functions controlled by the affected brain regions. Common affected areas include personality, language, and muscle/motor function.
The main difference between FTD and Alzheimer’s disease is the age patients begin presenting with symptoms. FTD symptoms typically begin to appear between ages 45 and 65, where symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease generally occur for people over the age of 65.
Although it’s normal for occasional memory slips and other affects of aging to occur, frequent expressions of the following symptoms should raise a red flag and result in a conversation with the family doctor:
- Memory loss
- Lack or loss of empathy
- Socially inappropriate behaviors
- Lack of inhibition
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
- Trouble with balance
- Difficulty with speech
- Frequent or abrupt mood swings
- Trouble concentrating or planning
Brain or Physical Changes
FTD happens when the nerve cells located in the front or temporal lobes within the brain die. The pathways between the connected lobes change, and some of the chemical messengers that exist to transmit signals between the nerve cells become lost over time. As more nerve cells die, the frontal and temporal lobes, as well as the brain tissue, shrinks.
Causes and/or Risk Factors
Nearly one-third of the time FTD is inherited. Unfortunately, besides family history or the presence of a similar disease or disorder, no other risk factors are known at this time.
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care
Diagnosis of FTD is based on a thorough evaluation by a medical professional familiar with the disorders. Brain scans including MRI, as well as glucose positron emission scans, are useful tests in combination with a patient history and neurological examination.
As for the care of an individual who has been diagnosed with FTD, speech and language therapy can be very helpful, as well as implementing various behavioral management strategies. Some of these strategies include establishing daily routines and making necessary home modifications.