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Frontotemporal Dementia: Expert Explains Symptoms, Variants, Causes, & Prevention

While dementia is of several types, one of the most disturbing for both the patient and their families is Frontotemporal dementia.

Sushmita Sharma
Written by: Sushmita SharmaUpdated at: Apr 05, 2023 17:56 IST
Frontotemporal Dementia: Expert Explains Symptoms, Variants, Causes, & Prevention

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Dementia is not a disease but rather a general term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, language, behaviour and other cognitive and mental abilities. While dementia is of several types, one of the most disturbing for both the patient and their families is Frontotemporal dementia. 

We spoke to our expert Dr Chetna Luthra, Clinical psychologist at Lissun, who explained frontotemporal dementia, its symptoms, variants, causes, and prevention.

What Is Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)

It is an early onset of dementia, which means that it does not only occur in people over 60, but individuals younger than that may be vulnerable as well. While it impacts several functions, memory is relatively preserved, especially in the early stage of the disease. It entails clinical disorders, which mainly include changes in behaviour, language, executive functions and motor control difficulties. The areas of the brain that are impacted by FTD are the frontal and temporal lobes, and the damage is said to be progressive. 

Also Read: Digital Dementia: Tips To Deal With A Modern Day Health Crisis

Symptoms Of Frontotemporal Dementia

FTD is not limited to a single set of symptoms but rather entails different types or variants depending on the area of the brain that is impacted first. When we talk about it being progressive, it is also suggestive that the symptoms might start as mild and then will eventually deteriorate to severe levels. It can be extremely hard to diagnose, especially due to having similar symptoms as other conditions like mood changes in depression. 

Different variants of FTD have different symptoms. Here are some of the most common variants:

1. Behavioural Variant FTD 

The area of the brain impacted first is the – frontal lobe, the symptoms still vary depending on the area of damage in the frontal lobe but mainly individuals either become disinhibited or show apathy. Some may alternate between the two. The common symptoms of this variant include rigid mood and behaviour, loss of empathy, lack of emotional warmth, apathy or loss of interest in doing tasks, avoiding behaviours, and general loss of inhibitions. It can lead to socially inappropriate behaviour, impulsivity, distractibility, judgement and planning impairment, lack of self-awareness, changes in eating patterns like binge eating, craving for sweet foods, motor difficulties like collecting and a lack of insight. 

2. Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA)

Aphasia is a term used to describe brain disorders that impact language. It is when the temporal lobe is affected first, there is a loss of language skills and in the early stages, there is not much of an impact on thinking, behaviour and perception. PPA can be categorised into two categories:

i. Semantic Variant

The individual loses the ability to find the correct words, assign meaning to words and to be able to name and identify objects and people. 

Symptoms Of Semantic Variant

Loss or deterioration of general vocabulary

The person uses more general words and there is a gradual loss of ability to understand words, especially complex and uncommon ones.

Difficulty in remembering 

The person has difficulty in finding or remembering someone’s name or the right word. He/she also forgets the use of common objects or the inability to name them. 

In this variant, the person can have relatively normal functional abilities and can manage daily living until the very late progression of the disease. This may be accompanied by some behaviour changes such as rigidity in behaviour and routines. 

Also Read: Expert Explains Difference Between Alzheimer's Disease And Dementia

ii. Progressive Non-fluent aphasia

In this type of FTD, the characteristic features include difficulties in speaking and gradual loss of ability to speak. 

Symptoms Of Progressive non-fluent aphasia

Speech difficulties, such as slurring and stuttering, able to articulate but with poor word usage, incorrect grammar, short or incomplete sentences, loss of communication ability, inability to follow conversations, especially in groups and a gradual decline in the ability to read and write.

Cause Of Frontotemporal Dementia

The exact cause of FTD remains unknown, however, it has been linked to certain gene mutations, loss of neurons, and abnormal amounts of a certain protein in the brain. Individuals who have a family history of FTD are more susceptible to developing FTD. 

Is There A Prevention?

FTD is a type of progressive and non-curable dementia, and there are no ways of slowing down or preventing the progression.

Since the exact causes are unknown, there is no specificity in the prevention of FTD, however certain lifestyle changes that keep the brain healthy could be some ways but there is no evidence that suggests this can be prevented. 

However, research has shown a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle can contribute to preventive measures. Some of them avoid head injury, participating in fulfilling activities, physical and mental stimulation, good quality sleep, and good stress management techniques and these factors could also help in managing the progression after the onset.