According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, “Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a group of disorders caused by progressive cell degeneration in the brain’s frontal lobes (the areas behind your forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind your ears).” FTD is thought to affect 10 to 15 percent of all dementia cases, but in people under the age of 65, it is thought to account for 20 to 50 percent of cases. FTD causes cell shrinkage in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which control certain kinds of movement, emotions, judgment, and speaking and understanding speech. Though FTD includes a range of different disorders, scientists and doctors have identified overlapping symptoms as well as specific brain abnormalities in all of these disorders.
In 1892, a physician named Arnold Pick described a disorder a patient had that affected speech and language. Thus, FTD used to be called “Pick’s Disease” and many doctors still use the term today. Today, doctors have classified FTD into three categories:
Because there are no tests that can detect FTD, doctors must rely on their own judgment and expertise to diagnose a patient. If you suspect a loved one is suffering from FTD, it is important to schedule an MRI, because FTD physically affects the brain, causing shrinkage in the frontal and temporal lobes. One of the most important aspects of FTD that differentiates it from Alzheimer’s is the age at which it affects a person. Most people who have FTD are diagnosed in their 50s and 60s, whereas only about 10 percent are diagnosed after age 70. Alzheimer’s is more common the older people get. Another hallmark symptom of FTD that doesn’t typically affect Alzheimer’s patients are related to speech and language. People with Alzheimer’s may not be able to remember the word for something, but when they do speak they can be understood. FTD patients lose the ability to speak pretty quickly with the advancement of the disease.
There is no specific cause for FTD, but family history plays a large role. Scientists have also found protein deposits in the brains of those who have died from FTD, but they do not know what causes this, nor do they know why the disease affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Research has indicated a possible connection between FTD and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Frontotemporal Dementia is one of the lesser known types of dementia; it is not as common as Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia. Knowing the symptoms of FTD can help you prevent a misdiagnosis and mistreatment.