Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia or FTD (sometimes called Pick’s disease) is a relatively rare form of dementia.

The early symptoms of FTD vary from person to person and depend on which area of the brain is affected.

In behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia, the parts of the frontal lobe that regulate social behaviour may be most affected. In semantic dementia, the parts of the temporal lobe that support understanding of language and factual knowledge are most affected. In progressive non-fluent aphasia, parts of the frontal and temporal lobes that control speech are most affected.

Symptoms may include:

  • Personality changes. This may include a change in how people express their feelings towards others or a lack of understanding of other people’s feelings. They may also show a lack of interest or concern, become disinhibited or behave inappropriately.
  • Lack of personal awareness. People may fail to maintain their normal level of personal hygiene and grooming.
  • Lack of social awareness. This might include making inappropriate jokes, or showing a lack of tact.
  • Changes in food preference, over-eating or over-drinking.
  • Behaviour changes – humour or sexual behaviour may change. People may become more aggressive, develop unusual beliefs, interests or obsessions. Some people become impulsive or easily distracted.
  • Difficulty with simple plans and decisions.
  • Lack of awareness of any changes in personality or behaviour.
  • Decline in language abilities. This might include difficulty getting words out or understanding them. People may repeat commonly used words and phrases, or forget the meaning of words.
  • Difficulty recognising people or knowing what objects are for.
  • Day-to-day memory may be relatively unaffected in the early stages, but problems with attention and concentration could give the impression of memory problems.
  • Movement problems – about one in every eight people with behavioural variant FTD also develops movement problems of motor neurone disease. This can include stiff or twitching muscles, muscle weakness and difficulty swallowing.

Symptoms get worse over time, gradually leading to more widespread problems with day-to-day function. Some people may develop motor problems similar to those seen in Parkinson’s. Over time people with FTD can find it harder to swallow, eat, communicate and move. They will require more support to look after themselves. The speed of change can vary widely, but some people live with the condition for more than 15 years.

This information was updated in January 2016 and is due for review in January 2018. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.

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