What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia, sometimes called Pick’s disease or FTD (frontotemporal degneration), is a rare form of dementia that causes death of brain cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. This type of dementia significantly changes an individual’s personality, before memory and speech problems.

FTD differs from other forms of dementia in two important ways:

  • It is a gradual, progressive decline in which the individual has an increasingly difficult time in planning or organizing activities, interacting with others, caring for themselves and difficulty in behaving appropriately in social and/or work settings; and
  • The onset of FTD often occurs in individuals in their 50s and 60s. Roughly 60 percent of FTD diagnosed cases occur in individuals 45-65 years old.

Changes in the frontal lobe of the brain are linked to behavioral symptoms, while changes in the temporal lobe of the brain affect language and emotional disorders.

The most common signs and symptoms of FTD include extreme changes in behavior and personality, lack of judgment and inhibitions, apathy, compulsive eating, increasingly inappropriate actions and lack of awareness of thinking and behavioral changes. Additionally, individuals with FTD may have difficulty understanding written or spoken language and recalling words for common objects. In rarer types of FTD, symptoms such as tremors, muscle spasms and poor coordination may appear.

There is no effective way to slow the progression of frontotemporal dementia, but the person with it can appreciate a routine, so it is helpful to maintain a structured schedule. Modifying the environment can be helpful for the compulsive eating, such as putting locks on food cabinets and supervising eating habits.

Oftentimes antidepressants are prescribed to reduce the behavioral problems, though these may or may not be successful. Individuals with FTD who experience language and/or speech difficulties may benefit from speech therapy and interactive communication tools, such as a personal digital assistant.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.