Written By:  Gayle Horton

As many as seven million Americans may have a form of dementia called Frontotemporal dementia or FTD. This form of dementia may account for 140,000 to 350,000 cases of dementia in the USA. FTD is difficult to diagnose and it clearly takes a toll on any family trying to help someone they love.

Frontotemporal dementia describes a syndrome involving shrinking of the frontal and temporal anterior lobes of the brain. The areas of the brain affected by FTD control reasoning, personality, movement, speech, social graces, language and some aspects of memory.

The earlier name for this condition was called Pick’s Disease. Progressive aphasia or language impairment and semantic dementia or a progressive loss of the ability to remember the meaning of words describes FTD.

The early symptoms of FTD are inappropriate social behavior, lack of social graces, lack of empathy, increased interest in sex, changes in food preferences, agitation or blunt emotions, and loss of insight into their own behavior. Neglect of personal hygiene, repetitive or compulsive behavior, and decreased energy and motivation can be all associated with FTD.

FTD occurs predominantly after age 40 and usually before age 65, with out regard to gender. In nearly half of the patients, a family history of dementia exists in a parent or sibling, suggesting a genetic component.

To diagnose FTD a medical professionals use a CT scan or MRI of the brain, to reveal cerebral atrophy in the frontotemporal regions. An EEG will remain normal even in advanced stages. Duration and treatment of FTD varies with some patients declining rapidly over two to three years and others showing only minimal changes over a three to seventeen year period.

There is no cure for frontotemporal dementia and no effective way to slow its progression. Treatment choices rely entirely on managing the symptoms.

No medications are known currently to treat or prevent FTD. Some antidepressants may help boost the serotonin to alleviate some behaviors. People experiencing language difficulties may benefit from speech therapy, to learn alternate strategies for communication.

People who have frontotemporal dementia often don't recognize that they have a problem. In many cases, family members are the ones who notice the symptoms and arrange for a doctor's appointment. Your family physician may refer you to a neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist for further evaluation and help to manage the difficult behaviors.