Frontotemporal dementia facts*
*Frontotemporal dementia facts medical author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
- Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a syndrome featuring shrinking of the frontal and temporal anterior lobes of the brain.
- Pick's disease and semantic dementia are forms of frontotemporal dementia.
- The symptoms of frontotemporal dementia fall into two clinical patterns that involve either: (1) changes in behavior, or (2) problems with language.
- Frontotemporal dementia is often inherited and runs in families.
- There is no treatment for frontotemporal dementia and treatment is directed toward minimizing symptoms.
- Frontotemporal dementia progresses steadily and often rapidly and is fatal.
- The duration of disease ranges from less than 2 years in some individuals to more than 10 years in others.
What is frontotemporal dementia?
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a clinical syndrome associated with shrinking of the frontal and temporal anterior lobes of the brain. Originally known as Pick’s disease, the name and classification of FTD has been a topic of discussion for over a century. The current designation of the syndrome groups together Pick’s disease, primary progressive aphasia, and semantic dementia as FTD. Some doctors propose adding corticobasal degeneration and progressive supranuclear palsy to FTD and calling the group Pick Complex. These designations will continue to be debated.
What are the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia?
As it is defined today, the symptoms of FTD fall into two clinical patterns that involve either (1) changes in behavior, or (2) problems with language.
The first type features behavior that can be either impulsive (disinhibited) or bored and listless (apathetic) and includes
- inappropriate social behavior;
- lack of social tact;
- lack of empathy;
- loss of insight into the behaviors of oneself and others;
- an increased interest in sex;
- changes in food preferences;
- agitation or, conversely,
- blunted emotions;
- neglect of personal hygiene;
- repetitive or compulsive behavior, and
- decreased energy and motivation.
The second type primarily features symptoms of language disturbance, including difficulty making or understanding speech, often in conjunction with the behavioral type’s symptoms.
Spatial skills and memory remain intact.
Is there any treatment for frontotemporal dementia?
No treatment has been shown to slow the progression of FTD. Behavior modification may help control unacceptable or dangerous behaviors. Aggressive, agitated, or dangerous behaviors could require medication. Antidepressants have been shown to improve some symptoms.
What is the prognosis (the outlook) for frontotemporal dementia?
The outcome for people with FTD is poor. The disease progresses steadily and often rapidly, ranging from less than 2 years in some individuals to more than 10 years in others. Eventually some individuals with FTD will need 24-hour care and monitoring at home or in an institutionalized care setting.
What research is being done on frontotemporal dementia?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and fund research on FTD. Among several research projects, scientists hope to identify novel genes involved with FTD, perhaps leading to therapeutic approaches where delivery of normal genes would improve or restore brain function. Clinical imaging may help researchers better understand changes in the brains of people with FTD, as well as help diagnose these disorders. Other projects are aimed at better understanding the toxic effects of protein buildup and how it is related to the development of FTD and related dementias.
Where can I find more information about frontotemporal dementia?
Brain and Nervous System Resources
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Frontotemporal Dementia Information Page. NIH; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated: March 27, 2019.