Frontotemporal dementia

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

Dementia is not a disease in itself, it is a word 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. Dementia is caused by different brain diseases. The symptoms someone has will depend on which disease is affecting their brain

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a rarer 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 diseases. Your doctor may refer to these by their specific names or may describe them all as ‘frontotemporal dementia’, as we will in this booklet.

Frontotemporal dementia includes the following diseases:

  • 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.

You can find out more about semantic dementia and progressive non fluent aphasia on our ‘What is primary progressive aphasia?’ page.

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

In FTD, there is a build-up of proteins in the frontal and temporal lobes. Three proteins involved in FTD are called tau, TDP-43 and FUS.

These proteins clump together and damage the brain cells, eventually causing them to die. The reason for this build-up is not yet fully understood and research is ongoing.

This information was updated in January 2020 and is due for review in January 2022. 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.

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