Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is one of the rarer types of dementia, but is actually the 3rd most common type for people aged under 65. As the name suggests, frontotemporal dementia affects the front and sides of the brain and causes specific problems with brain function in those areas.
Frontotemporal dementia is sometimes also known as Pick’s disease, or progressive aphasia. In this guide we will be referring to it as frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
This guide to frontotemporal dementia will help you to understand what it is, the symptoms, and what support is available.
What is frontotemporal dementia?
The front and the sides of the brain are known as the frontal and temporal lobes. Frontotemporal dementia is a type of dementia which affects these areas. These are the areas of the brain which deal with behaviour, problem-solving, planning and the control of emotions, language, and recognising faces and familiar objects.
Damage to these areas usually means that people who have frontotemporal dementia struggle with these things.
Whilst dementia usually affects people aged 65 and older, frontotemporal dementia can start at a much younger age. Typically people diagnosed with FTD are aged between 45 – 65. It is often misdiagnosed as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
What causes frontotemporal dementia?
Proteins build up in the frontal (behind the forehead) and temporal (either side) lobes of the brain. This protein build-up causes nerve cells to die, affecting the way messages are transmitted in the brain. It is thought that the difficulty transmitting messages in the brain is the cause of the problems associated with frontotemporal dementia.
Of the 4 largest types of dementia, FTD is the most likely to run in the family. Certain genes are known to increase susceptibility. Approximately 1 in 8 people with FTD have a relative with it also.
What are the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia?
The symptoms of frontotemporal dementia tend to be focused on reduced brain activity in the front and sides of the brains. These areas are responsible for many key processes including behaviour, language and recognition.
Frontotemporal dementia symptoms
Personality and behaviour changes
The symptom most often used to identify frontotemporal dementia is a severe change in personality and behaviour. A person may begin to act selfishly, impulsively or inappropriately. It is also common for people with FTD to lose motivation and develop poor personal hygiene.
Difficulty with language
Difficulty with language is a common symptom of frontotemporal dementia. You may notice a person struggling to speak, speaking slowly or getting words mixed up.
As with other forms of dementia, it is common to have difficulty concentrating, or to be very easily be distracted by things.
Lapses of memory
Lapses of memory, and inability to remember faces and names, are a symptom of FTD although usually only in the later stages.
In the later stages of frontotemporal dementia, it is also common for people to develop some physical health problems and mobility issues. These can include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), struggling to walk, and incontinence.
There are a number of products and personal aids that can help people with FTD, particularly if they are prone to wandering or struggle with mobility. Read our guide to dementia products and personal aids.
How is frontotemporal dementia diagnosed?
There is no straightforward way to diagnose frontotemporal dementia. A doctor or specialist may make an assessment of mental abilities over a period of time, in order to make a comparison. MRI, CT or PET scans can help identify which parts of the brain are affected, and to rule out any other issues with the brain.
Blood tests or a lumbar puncture might be required to rule out conditions which have similar symptoms.
Can frontotemporal dementia be treated?
Unfortunately there is no cure for frontotemporal dementia though research is ongoing. There are medications and treatments which can help manage some of the symptoms.
Medicine for frontotemporal dementia
A type of antidepressent called an SSRI may be prescribed to control the impulsive and compulsive behaviours that some people with FTD develop.
If a person is acting in a way that is challenging enough to pose a threat to themselves or people around them then they may be prescribed antipsychotic medication. This is not necessary in most cases.
Other treatments for frontotemporal dementia
Occupational therapy can help a person to identify day-to-day tasks that they struggle with and find solutions.
Speech and language therapy can help to address the language problems that are common among people with frontotemporal dementia.