Frontotemporal dementia

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

What is frontotemporal dementia?

The word dementia is used to describe a group of symptoms – these may include changes in personality, behaviour or mood, memory loss, confusion and difficulty with day-to-day tasks.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a relatively rare form of dementia. It is thought to account for fewer than one in 20 of all dementia cases. It commonly affects people between the ages of 45 and 64. However, FTD can affect people younger and older than this.

Originally called Pick’s disease after the scientist who first observed the symptoms, FTD is now known to be made up of several different conditions. Your doctor may refer to these conditions by their specific names or may describe them all as ‘frontotemporal dementia’, as we will in this booklet.

Frontotemporal dementia includes the following conditions:

  • Behavioural variant FTD (bvFTD)
  • Semantic dementia (the word semantic means the meaning of language)
  • Progressive non-fluent aphasia – aphasia is a language disorder where people have problems speaking and writing
  • FTD associated with motor neurone disease

Semantic dementia and progressive non-fluent aphasia are types of primary progressive aphasia. You can find out more about these conditions on the primary progressive aphasia pages.

FTD is caused by damage to cells in areas of the brain called the frontal and temporal lobes. These areas regulate our personality, emotions and behaviour, as well our speech and understanding of language.

In FTD, there is a build-up of specific proteins in these areas of the brain. These proteins can clump together and become toxic to brain cells, causing them to die.

Three major proteins identified in FTD are called tau, TDP-43 and FUS. The reason for their build-up is not yet fully understood and research is ongoing.

This information was updated in January 2018 and is due for review in January 2020. It does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.

Was this information helpful? Let us know what you think by filling out this short survey.