Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), caused by cell degeneration, affects the brain areas associated with personality, behavior, and language. A once rare occurrence, FTD may now account for 20-50% of dementia cases for those younger than 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The disease causes cell damage that shrinks the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes. The first symptoms are typically behavioral or personality changes, which can lead to memory loss. It typically occurs in those between the ages of 45 and 65; however, the Association for Frontotemporal Dementia Degeneration has seen cases as young as 21 and as old as 80.

What Causes FTD?

The exact cause of FTD is still unknown, although it has been linked to a variety of gene mutations. It’s also thought that shrinkage may occur due to a buildup of abnormal proteins that clump together and become toxic to the brain cells, killing them.

Physicians use a battery of tests to identify attributes of the disease and rule out others. Standard tests include neuropsychological testing, MRIs, blood work, CT scans, and PET scans. There are no risk factors for FTD, except if there is a family history of the disease.

The Most Common Signs and Symptoms of FTD

Each case of FTD is unique, but over time, the illness becomes more distinct from other brain conditions. Symptoms often occur in clusters and will intensify as the disease progresses. Here are the most common signs and symptoms of FTD.

Behavioral Changes

The most common symptoms of FTD relate to abrupt and extreme personality and behavior changes.

  • Continual inappropriate actions (this is more pronounced if it’s especially out of character for the individual)
  • Unable to resist impulsively picking up and using objects for no reason
  • Poor judgment
  • Loss of interpersonal skills and empathy
  • Apathy
  • Lack of inhibition
  • Repetitive, compulsive behavior such as constant humming, hand rubbing, and foot tapping
  • Decline in hygiene practices
  • Overeating or other eating habit changes
  • Oral exploration and consumption of objects that aren’t edible
  • Frequent and abrupt mood changes

Speech and Language Issues

There are some types of FTD that will greatly impact speech and language skills. This may include individuals finding it harder to use and understand written and spoken language. People may have a hard time finding the right word for a common object. Further, they may just begin to replace the words with pronouns, calling the chair, it. They may also forget the meanings of words.

With speech, there may be inconsistency or hesitation. A patient may have errors in sentence structure or misuse words.

Memory Symptoms

FTD patients will eventually suffer memory loss, but it’s often a later stage symptom. With memory loss also comes an inability to concentrate, plan, or organize. The person can often feel confused about a situation they are in due to these symptoms.

Movement Symptoms

FTD can also cause movement disorders, not unlike those suffered by Parkinson’s disease patients. These symptoms usually display as:

  • Tremors
  • Poor coordination or balance
  • Problems swallowing
  • Muscle atrophy and cramping
  • Rigidity
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty maneuvering small objects and dropping them

Treatment for FTD

There is no medication specifically designed for FTD. Many physicians seek to ease the behavioral symptoms with antidepressants or antipsychotics. For the language challenges, many patients choose to communicate through pictures and gestures. They can learn ways to adapt. Physical therapy can be a treatment to deal with movement and motor skill symptoms.

Frontotemporal Dementia: Consult with the Brain Experts at IGEA

If you or a loved one has symptoms that could be FTD, it’s time to consult our team of board-certified New Jersey neurosurgeons for diagnosis and treatment options.

With locations throughout New Jersey and New York for IGEA Brain and Spine, it’s easy to find a location near you. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

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