Frontotemporal dementia – how to recognize the signs
In people under 65, frontotemporal dementia is the second most commonly diagnosed dementia, but it is less common in those over 65.
Frontotemporal dementia is a group of conditions caused by the death of nerve cells and pathways in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Damage to the brain is linked to the abnormal formation of proteins that interfere with communication between brain cells.
The main types of frontotemporal dementia are:
- Behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (also known as Pick’s)
- Primary progressive aphasia which consists of semantic dementia and non-fluent progressive aphasia.
Like other forms of dementia, it is a progressive disease that affects behavior and personality and can sometimes lead to disinhibition and inappropriate social behavior.
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Eating habits can also be affected, with people suddenly gorging on food, especially sugary foods. This form of dementia can sometimes be confused with depression, stress, anxiety, psychosis, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In the behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia, the initial symptoms may include:
- behavior and personality changes
- obsessive or repetitive behaviors
- loss of empathy
- changes in appetite and the food consumed
- difficulty in decision making, problem solving and concentration.
In primary progressive aphasia, the initial symptoms may include:
- language difficulties
- speech problems
- reduced comprehension
- loss of understanding of familiar words
- difficulty recognizing people or objects.
There are several things that can help a person with symptoms, which can be painful and confusing.
- Establish a routine and regular activities
- Have a card that lets people know you have dementia in an emergency. These can be ordered from the Dementia UK helpline or website.
- Try to monitor your food and water intake as there may be weight gain due to overeating and fixation on sugary and calorie foods.
- If you are having language difficulties, ask the GP to refer you to a speech therapist so that new ways of communicating can be explored.
For anyone living or caring for someone in this situation, there is a lot that can be done to help.
- Remember that personality changes, inappropriate social behaviors, and apathy are due to illness and are not intentional.
- As the affected person may not have an idea of the changes experienced, trying to “correct” the behavior of the person could be resistance and could lead to arguments.
- The family may need specialized counseling and support to accept and manage the changes they are experiencing
- A specialist practitioner such as a Admiral Nurse could also help the family to develop strategies to cope with the changes experienced.