What is Pick’s disease?

Pick’s disease, or frontotemporal dementia (FTD), is a less common form of dementia that damages the frontal part of the brain, and a significant form of dementia in individuals under the age of 65.

First described in 1892 by Arnold Puck, Pick’s disease causes an irreversible decline in an individual’s functioning over a period of years. Excess protein build-up causes the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which control speech and personality, to slowly atrophy. The disease usually strikes adults between the ages of 40 and 60, and is slightly more common in women than in men.

The affected individual exhibits marked personality and behavioral changes prior to the decline in the ability to speak coherently. Oftentimes, the disease is misdiagnosed as early stages of depression or Alzheimer’s disease.

Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, however, in which memory impairment is the predominant early sign, the first symptoms of Pick’s disease typically involve strong personality changes or a decline in basic functioning, and it usually occurs at an earlier age than Alzheimer’s. The progression of the disease is slow, but the symptoms do worsen over time as the brain cells continue to degenerate.

Other symptoms include behavioral signs such as impulsivity and poor judgment, extreme restlessness, excessive eating or drinking, obsessive or repetitive behavior, and sexual exhibitionism. There are also emotional signs such as abrupt mood changes, lack of empathy, apathy, aggression and rudeness, poor attention span and an unawareness of behavior changes. Additionally, changes in language begin to occur such as loss of vocabulary, trouble finding the right words to say, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, decrease in the ability to read or write and a complete loss of speech. Further, the individual with a suspected Pick’s disease diagnosis exhibits increase muscle rigidity, lack of coordination, urinary incontinence and general weakness.

Pick’s disease can only be 100 percent determined by autopsy, and currently the best methods for reaching a probable diagnosis involves evaluation of symptoms, together with brain scans and EEG’s.

The cause for the build-up of protein that results in Pick’s disease is unknown and the disease accounts for 15 percent of all dementia.

There is currently no cure for Pick’s disease, but early diagnosis can assist in better managing and improving quality of life.

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.