Frontal lobe dementia, also known as frontotemporal dementia, is a form of dementia that occurs when the frontal lobes of the brain begin to shrink (or “atrophy”). Experts estimate that it is responsible for 10%-15% of dementia cases. Frontal lobe dementia has its own constellation of symptoms and is separate from Alzheimer’s disease, although there are cases when the symptoms of these disorders overlap.
Frontal Lobe Dementia Onset
One main difference between frontal lobe dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is that, on average, frontal lobe dementia first presents itself significantly earlier in life. Frontal lobe dementia symptoms usually appear between 45 and 65 years of age, while the majority of Alzheimer’s cases occur in those over 65.
Frontal Lobe Dementia Symptoms
The frontal lobes are responsible for helping inhibition and behavior regulation, so people with frontal lobe dementia will often exhibit strange or unusual behaviors and personality changes. In fact, personality changes and behavior problems are hallmarks of the disorder.
Personality changes that can occur because of frontal lobe dementia include:
- Apathy and indifference
- Socially inappropriate behavior
People with frontal lobe dementia may suddenly struggle with binge eating and gambling compulsions because of the impulsiveness associated with frontal lobe atrophy. The indifference associated dementia can cause formerly active and energetic people to become couch potatoes who watch 18 hours of TV each day. Because the personality changes associate with frontal lobe dementia are so pronounced, it is sometimes initially misdiagnosed as mental illness.
Frontal lobe dementia does not cause memory loss, but it can other cognitive and neurological problems similar to those caused by Alzheimer’s disease or stroke. These symptoms can include:
- Difficulty with speech and language
- Inability to concentrate
- Inability to plan
- Using the wrong object for the wrong task, or at the wrong time
- Movement and balance difficulties
Diagnosing Frontal Lobe Dementia
No one test is able to diagnose frontal lobe dementia. Instead physicians are able to use the balance of evidence to diagnose frontal lobe dementia based on their best judgment. Because there is no foolproof test and diagnosis depends on the physician’s knowledge, judgment, and observation of the patient, frontal lobe dementia is notoriously difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Although as the disease progresses, it becomes easier to definitely distinguish it between other disorders.
Therapies and Prognosis
Today’s approaches to frontal lobe dementia are palliative, meaning they are focused on easing symptoms, as there is no known cure for frontal lobe dementia or treatments that can delay its progression. The disease inevitably gets worse and in its final stages patients require 24 hour care.
The average survival time after a diagnosis of frontal lobe dementia is six to eight years, although patients have been recorded to live up to 20 years after a frontal lobe dementia diagnosis.