Frontotemporal Dementia: Information and Resources for Caregivers

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a disease that results in progressive damage to the temporal and/or frontal lobes of the brain. FTD typically presents between the ages of 40 and 65 and impacts behavior, personality, movement and language.

Types of Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is often broken down into 3 subtypes:

Behavioral Variant FTD was previously called Pick's disease. Some patients with bvFTD show evidence of Pick bodies —abnormal proteins in the brain. It is the most common form of frontotemporal dementia. It is common for memory to remain intact with bvFTD; personality and behavior changes are the primary symptom.

Primary Progressive Aphasia impacts an individual's ability to communicate. The non-fluent variant of aphasia affects speech, whereas the semantic variant interferes with a person's ability to understand, process and use language.

Movement-related frontotemporal dementias occur due atrophy and damage to areas of the brain that control movement. The symptoms are similar to the motor dysfunctions characteristic of Parkinson's disease such as loss of physical control, difficulty with balance, stiffness and a fixed stare.

Symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia

Instead of the memory issues that are widely understood to be the most common indicators of dementia, FTD is more often associated with marked personality and behavior changes. For this reason, symptoms associated with atrophy of the frontal lobe are often misdiagnosed as mental illness.

Symptoms of FTD include:

  • Socially inappropriate behavior such as swearing, stealing and repetition
  • Impaired judgement and reasoning
  • Dramatic personality changes and fluctuations in mood
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Increased interest in sex and lack of self-awareness into inappropriate sexual inhibitions
  • Lack of empathy and flat affect, often seen as emotional indifference
  • Deterioration in hygiene
  • Impulsive behavior and agitation, sometimes demonstrated as restlessness, compulsive clapping, pacing or putting inedible objects in the mouth
  • Changes in speech, such as loss of understanding, misnaming objects and less frequent speech
  • Problems in movement similar to Parkinson's disease, such as tremors, muscle spasms, or loss of coordination

Caring for Someone with FTD

Like other types of dementia, frontotemporal is a degenerative and progressive disease. No cure or treatment is available for FTD, however medications may be available to address some symptoms and behavioral interventions may help alleviate problematic behaviors.

In early stages of the disease, it is possible to manage the progression of changes by designing daily routines and setting proper expectations, however behavioral and cognitive symptoms worsen over time. As problem behaviors and language deficits increase and motor skills decline, individuals with FTD eventually require 24-hour care.

Caring for a loved one with FTD can be especially challenging. Browse AgingCare's resources for expert information, tips and advice for coping with the physical and emotional challenges of caring for someone with frontotemporal dementia. Visit the Caregiver Forum to connect with other caregivers who are caring for loved ones with FTD.

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