Symptoms of FTD can be very different to other types of dementia. Early symptoms don’t usually include memory problems or forgetfulness. FTD can make it harder for people to understand and process information, emotions and behaviours.

The early symptoms of FTD can vary widely from person to person. This is because they depend on which area of the brain is affected first, and which type of FTD someone has.

 

Shaheen

Looking back, I can clearly see when my mum's symptoms started. There was a lot of aggression and strange behaviours. At first she was falling out with friends and her aggression could be quite extreme.

- Shaheen, whose mum was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia

Symptoms may include:

  • Changes in emotions - a change in how people express their feelings or understand other people’s feelings. For example, not recognising when someone is upset.
  • Lack of interest - becoming withdrawn or losing interest in everyday life. People can stop looking after themselves, such as not washing or dressing properly.
  • Inappropriate behaviour - making inappropriate jokes or behaving strangely in front of others. Sense of humour, or sexual behaviour may change. Some people become impulsive or easily distracted.
  • Obsessions – people might develop new beliefs, interests, or obsessions. For example, shopping too often or gambling.
  • Diet - changes in food likes and dislikes such as eating lots of sweet things, over-eating or becoming more thirsty
  • Awareness – people may not realise that they are experiencing changes in their personality or behaviour.
  • Decision making - difficulty making plans, following instructions, and deciding what to do.
  • Communication – problems with speaking and understanding words. People may repeat words and phrases, struggle to say the right word or forget what words mean.
  • Recognition - difficulty recognising people or knowing what objects are for. For example, understanding that the kettle is used to boil water or that the remote controls the TV.
  • Memory - day-to-day memory may be less affected in the early stages of FTD compared with other forms of dementia, but problems with attention and concentration can be common.
  • Movement problems - around 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.
Types of ftd for web

In behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia, the parts of the frontal lobe that control social behaviour may be most affected. This means changes to behaviour, emotion and awareness are common symptoms.

In progressive non-fluent aphasia, the parts of the frontal lobe that control speech are most affected. This means struggling to find the right word or difficulty holding conversations can be common symptoms.

In semantic dementia, the parts of the temporal lobe that support understanding of language and factual knowledge are most affected. This means people forget the words for things and can struggle with concepts like money and paying for items.

Urvashi

I think the onset of my husband's symptoms was quite gradual. Early on before his diagnosis I asked him to pass me a packet of crisps and he struggled to work out what I needed. He was in his early 50s at the time so it didn’t even cross my mind that he could have dementia. It kept getting worse and he became quite withdrawn and developed an obsession with learning English. He also lost interest in things he used to care about.

- Urvashi, whose husband lives with semantic dementia

Around one in 10 people with motor neurone disease (MND) may also develop FTD. FTD and MND are linked to the build-up of the same proteins. While FTD affects the nerve cells in our brain, MND affects the nerve cells that tell our muscles what to do. Over time, these cells die, and we can no longer control our muscles. Symptoms tend to be more similar to behavioural variant FTD, although some people also have problems with language.

Frontotemporal dementia is a progressive disease. Over time symptoms get worse and someone will require more support to look after themselves and with day-to-day activities. The speed of change in symptoms can vary widely from person to person.

People with FTD can find it harder to swallow, eat, communicate, and may have difficulties with bladder or bowel control as symptoms become more severe. Some people may develop movement problems similar to those seen in Parkinson’s disease.

Urvashi

My husband can no longer speak English so I chat to him in Gujarati, which he also struggles with. He doesn’t know the meaning of different objects so he will call lots of different things a box and you have to work out what he means. He used to be able to go around on the buses on his own but he can’t now.

- Urvashi, whose husband lives with semantic dementia

What is frontotemporal dementia?

This booklet is for anyone who wants to know more about frontotemporal dementia (FTD). This includes people living with FTD, their carers, families and friends.

FTD front cover
RS1317_Alex_Wallace_Photography_ARUK_Rebrand_Des and Valli_April 2023 (64) (1)

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Alzheimer’s Research UK has a wide range of information about dementia. Order booklets or download them from our online form.

This information was updated in January 2024 and is due for review in January 2026. It was written by Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Information Services team with input from lay and expert reviewers. Please get in touch if you’d like a version with references or in a different format.

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