A group of disorders caused by cell degeneration, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) affects the brain, specifically its areas associated with personality, behavior and language. Once considered a rare disease, FTD may account for 20-50% of dementia cases in people younger than age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
FTD causes cell damage that shrinks the brain’s frontal (area behind the forehead) and temporal (area behind the ears) lobes. The disease generally starts with personality and behavior changes and may eventually lead to severe memory loss.
Often miscategorized as psychiatric illness, frontotemporal dementia typically strikes between the ages of 45 and 65. However, the Association for Frontotemporal Dementia Degeneration (AFTD) indicates that cases have occurred as early as age 21 and as late as age 80.
What Causes Frontotemporal Dementia?
Although it has been linked to a variety of gene mutations, the cause of FTD remains unknown. Physicians may use multiple tests to identify characteristics of FTD and rule out other possible conditions, such as liver or kidney disease. Standard testing may involve blood work, MRI, CT scan, PET scan and neuropsychological testing.
Signs and Symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia
Each case of FTD is different, but the illness generally becomes more distinguishable from other brain conditions as it progresses. Symptoms may occur in clusters, and some may be more prevalent in early or later stages. Here is a list of ten signs of FTD:
- Poor judgment
- Loss of empathy
- Socially inappropriate behavior
- Lack of inhibition
- Repetitive compulsive behavior
- Inability to concentrate or plan
- Frequent, abrupt mood changes
- Speech difficulties
- Problems with balance or movement
- Memory loss
What is the Difference Between FTD and Alzheimer’s?
Like Alzheimer’s disease, FTD causes brain atrophy that leads to a progressive loss of brain function. Key differences between the two diseases include:
- Age at diagnosis: Symptoms of FTD usually appear between the ages of 45 and 65, whereas the majority of Alzheimer’s cases occur in people over age 65.
- From behavior changes to memory loss: Changes in behavior are an early sign of FTD, and problems with memory may occur in advanced stages. In contrast, Alzheimer’s affects memory early on and may lead to behavior issues as it progresses.
- Speech problems: People with FTD often suffer greater problems speaking, understanding speech and reading than people with Alzheimer’s.
Unfortunately, FTD has no cure. Current FTD treatments focus on easing symptoms but cannot slow the disease’s progress. Physicians may prescribe antidepressant or antipsychotic drugs to combat behavioral symptoms. Patients suffering from language issues may benefit from speech therapy.
The average survival rate after FTD diagnosis is six to eight years. In the final stages, patients typically require 24-hour care.
Long-Term Care for FTD
Experts recommend that caregivers prepare for long-term care management for their loved one with FTD. Medical specialists, nursing care, and legal and financial advisors should all be under consideration.
The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration provides a Support and Resources page to help guide you through a new diagnosis. This page also provides a place for sharing stories with other families as a means of helping each other cope and gaining insight on this disease.
What particular signs of FTD did your loved one show? What resources did you seek for help with managing his or her condition?