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Frontotemporal dementia

3-minute read

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a term for several diseases that affect the front and side lobes of the brain - the parts of the brain that control personality, behaviour and language. It often affects people at a younger age than Alzheimer's disease, at around the age of 50 or 60.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) causes the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain to progressively shrink (atrophy).

Depending on which parts of the brain are affected, a person with FTD may experience reduced intellectual abilities, personality changes, emotional problems, or lose the ability to use language. Unlike in Alzheimer’s disease, the person's memory may not be affected.

Types of frontotemporal dementia

There are different forms of FTD. These include:

  • Behavioural-variant frontotemporal dementia — the person’s behaviour, habits, personality and/or emotions are affected.
  • Semantic dementia — initially the person will lose some of their language abilities. They may also have trouble recognising people.
  • Progressive non-fluent aphasia — the person gradually loses the ability to speak fluently. Later in the disease, behaviour changes can occur.

Symptoms

The symptoms of FTD usually start gradually and get worse over time. They include:

  • Behaviour and personality changes being rude, acting impulsively, losing inhibitions, being subdued, losing interest in people or things, developing repetitive behaviours, changing eating habits, neglecting personal hygiene.
  • Language problems — using the wrong words, forgetting vocabulary, repeating some words or phrases, forgetting the meaning of words, speaking slowly, losing the ability to speak altogether.
  • Losing mental abilities — as the condition progresses, people with FTD may need help deciding what to do, lose the ability to plan, develop poor judgement, be easily distracted, can't understand abstract ideas, stop recognising familiar people or objects, and develop memory problems.
  • Physical problems — in the later stages of the disease, people may develop problems with moving (similar to Parkinson’s disease), difficulty swallowing, and loss of bladder and/or bowel control.

Diagnosis

FTD is diagnosed by a specialist neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist. They will take a detailed medical history, do a physical examination, take urine and/or blood tests, do psychiatric and neuropsychological assessments and order brain imaging.

FTD is confirmed by an MRI scan showing changes in the frontal and temporal lobes.

Treatment

While there is no cure for FTD, there are treatments that can help a person manage the symptoms. They include:

  • psychological therapy
  • speech therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • medicines, such as antidepressants or antipsychotics

Usually the whole family must learn to adjust to the person's behaviour. Getting as much information and support as possible will help to develop coping strategies.

People with FTD usually need help at home and eventually care in a nursing home. The disease progresses differently in everybody. The average time that people survive after they develop symptoms is 8 years, although some people live much longer.

Who can help?

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your symptoms, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: October 2018

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