Unlike the more common types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia may not lead to memory loss in the early stages. The charity Dementia UK pointed out that the parts of the brain affected by frontotemporal dementia are responsible for personality, behaviours, and speech. There seems to be a genetic link for up to a third of people diagnosed with the condition.
Most commonly affecting people aged 40 to 60, there are two types of frontotemporal dementia.
There is frontotemporal dementia behavioural variant (bvFTD) and primary progressive aphasia (PPA).
The behavioural variant can lead to:
- Reduced motivation
- Lack of interest in things the person used to enjoy
- Inappropriate behaviour, e.g. making suggestive comments, staring, being over-familiar with people
- Reduced empathy
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Obsessive or repetitive behaviour, e.g. repeating phrases or gestures, hoarding
- Changes in behaviour regarding food or drink, e.g. craving sweet foods, poor table manners, overeating, drinking too much alcohol
- Difficulty with planning, organising and decision-making
- Lack of awareness of the changes in themselves (lack of insight).
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Frontotemporal dementia, the primary progressive aphasia type, differs from the behavioural variant as it tends to affect language rather than behaviour.
Symptoms of PPS can include:
- Difficulty remembering, finding or understanding words
- Gradual loss of vocabulary
- Forgetting what common objects are and what they do, e.g. kettle, toaster, keys
- Difficulty using speech, including forming sentences and using grammar correctly
- Difficulty conducting conversations – e.g. hesitation, using shortened sentences or using the wrong words
- Difficulty finding words
- Stopping speaking mid-sentence as they search for the right word.
The early signs of frontotemporal dementia might be mistaken for depression or stress.
A diagnosis might be difficult to come by, especially if the symptoms are subtle.
The NHS adds there can be “physical problems, such as slow or stiff movements, loss of bladder or bowel control, muscle weakness or difficulty swallowing”.
There is no single test for frontotemporal dementia, with a diagnosis requiring numerous approaches.
An assessment can involve discussing symptoms, performing mental tasks, blood tests, brain scans, and a lumbar puncture.
“How quickly frontotemporal dementia gets worse varies from person to person and is very difficult to predict,” the NHS adds.
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Antidepressants, for example, may help control the loss of inhibitions, overeating, or compulsive behaviours.
Physiotherapy could help with movement issues while speech therapy could improve communication skills.
People diagnosed with dementia may also want to make arrangements for the care they would like to receive when the disease worsens.
Several charities offer advice and support regarding dementia, including Dementia UK, Age UK, and Carers UK.