Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a specific type of dementia, usually targeting younger individuals. It takes its name by the part of the brain which is most typically affected, the prefrontal and anterior temporal cortex.
The most prominent features of FTD are:
- deep behavioural and personality changes, to the point that changes in affect and lack of concern or insight are considered major clinical criteria, adopted by professionals to differentiate between FTD and other types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia.
- Patients typically seem to lack emotion (e.g. sadness, sympathy, etc.), they might start adopting complicated routines or way of saying never used before, or might changing diet habits. Pain reception might also be reduced.
- Patients may either become overactive, socially disinhibited, or completely to the opposite, they might become apathetic and emotionally distant.
When it comes to cognitive changes, FTD patients usually have problems with planning, judgment, problem solving, organisation, attention and mental flexibility. However, speech, visual perceptions, spatial skills, and memory are usually well preserved until very late.
While FTD patients have problems processing and expressing their own emotions, they also have problems in recognising them when expressed by others, with regards to both facial and vocal expressions of emotion.
When it comes to treatment, these are unfortunately very limited, management mostly involves the construction and maintenance of a support network, in order to effectively support and help families. Often times, the best support and management is offered by psychiatric services for elderly people, despite the usually young age of FTD patients.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the complicated nature of the disease, and the difficulties in both diagnosis and treatment, interest in FTD has grown in recent years. We can hope for a breakthrough in the future.
source: Neary et al. (2005), Frontotemporal dementia, Lancet Neural, vol. 4, pp. 771-780.