The symptoms of frontotemporal dementia can be very different to memory loss and confusion which we may associate with more common types of dementia.

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

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Lack of interest - becoming withdrawn or losing interest in everyday life.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 drinking too much.

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, 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

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

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This information was updated in December 2021 and is due for review in January 2024. 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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