How to recognise the signs of Frontotemporal Dementia

How to recognise some of the different types of dementia.

How to recognise some of the different types of dementia. - Credit: SILVIA JANSEN

In people under the age of 65, frontotemporal dementia is the second most commonly diagnosed dementia but it is less common in the over 65 age group.

Frontotemporal dementia is a group of conditions caused by the death of nerve cells and pathways in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. The damage to the brain is linked to abnormally forming proteins that interfere with communication between brain cells.

The main types of frontotemporal dementia are:

  • Behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (also known as Pick’s)
  • Primary progressive aphasia which consists of semantic dementia and progressive non fluent aphasia.

Like other forms of dementia, it is a progressive condition which affects behaviour and personality and can sometimes lead to disinhibition and inappropriate social behaviour.

Eating patterns can also be affected, with people suddenly bingeing on food, especially sweet foods. This form of dementia can sometimes be confused with depression, stress, anxiety, psychosis or obsessive compulsive disorder.

In behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia initial symptoms may include:

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  • changes in behaviour and personality
  • apathy
  • obsessive or repetitive behaviours
  • loss of empathy
  • changes in appetite and food eaten
  • difficulties with decision making, problem solving and concentration.

In primary progressive aphasia, the initial symptoms may include:

  • language difficulties
  • speech problems
  • reduced comprehension
  • loss of understanding of familiar words
  • difficulty recognising people or objects.

There are several things that may help the person experiencing symptoms, which can be distressing and confusing.

  • Establish a routine and regular activities
  • Carry a card that lets people know you have dementia in an emergency situation. These can be ordered from the Dementia UK helpline or website.
  • Try to monitor your food and fluid intake as there can be weight gain due to excessive eating and a fixation with sweet, calorific foods.
  • If you experience language difficulties, ask the GP for a speech and language therapist referral so new ways of communicating can be explored

For anyone living or caring for someone in this situation, there are lots of things that can be done to help.

  • Remember that the changes in personality, inappropriate social behavior and apathy are due to the condition and are not intentional.
  • As the person affected may not have insight into the changes experienced, trying to ‘correct’ the person’s behaviour could be resisted and could lead to arguments
  • The family may need specialist advice and support to come to terms with and manage the changes experienced
  • A specialist practitioner such as an Admiral Nurse could also help the family develop strategies for dealing with the changes experienced.