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causes of frontotemporal dementia

What Are The Causes of Frontotemporal Dementia?

If you know of someone who has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), it can cause uncertainty and anxiety for the person with the condition and their loved ones. 

Many questions need to be answered, especially regarding the symptoms and causes of frontotemporal dementia.

The Kensington Sierra Madre’s team of dedicated staff members has created a tight-knit community of caregivers and medical professionals that can attend to the needs of dementia-stricken individuals. 

Along with providing the basics of daily living, like proper nutrition, we strive to give our residents and families answers.

Understanding your loved one’s condition can help alleviate some of the stresses of this devastating diagnosis. Let’s look at the various symptoms and causes of frontotemporal dementia.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia is actually a category of neurology disorders

Frontotemporal dementia affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are generally associated with behavior, personality, and language.

Symptoms can vary depending on the part of the brain that is afflicted. However, the shrinking of these lobes is the overall cause of frontotemporal dementia (also called frontotemporal lobar degeneration or frontal lobe dementia).

Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) is the most common type of frontotemporal degeneration. It’s characterized by progressive atrophy of the nerve cells in the brain’s frontal and anterior temporal regions.

Some patients will exhibit dramatic personality changes and become socially inappropriate, emotionally indifferent, or impulsive. Others may lose their ability to use appropriate language.

A misdiagnosis of psychiatric problems or other types of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease can happen. 

One key indicator is that frontotemporal dementia will tend to strike at a younger age than Alzheimer’s disease, often between the ages of 45-60. But this is not for all cases of FTD, as some do occur in later stages of life.

Overall, FTD makes up approximately 10-20% of all forms of dementia.

The two most prevalent types of FTD are

  1. Frontal variant—which affects personality and behavior.
  2. Primary progressive aphasia—affecting communication abilities. This type of FTD also has two subtypes:
    1. Progressive nonfluent aphasia—affecting a person’s ability to speak and
    2. Semantic dementia—affecting a person’s ability to understand and use language.

There are also less common forms of FTD that affect movement, similar to Parkinson’s disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia

The symptoms of FTD can differ from person to person—but early symptoms will get worse over time, generally over the years.

Many symptoms of FTD will “cluster” together, and some may have more than one cluster simultaneously.

Next, let’s break down the individual symptoms.

Behavioral changes

This symptom is the most common sign of frontotemporal dementia—significant shifts in behavior or personality.

  • An increase in social behavior that’s considered inappropriate.
  • A decrease in interpersonal skills like a loss of empathy
  • Losing inhibitions
  • Questionable judgment
  • An increase in apathy, sometimes mistaken for depression
  • Compulsive behavior that repeats
  • Personal hygiene declines
  • A change in eating habits (like overeating or preferring carbs or sweets)
  • Pica—eating things not usually considered food or compulsively putting things in their mouth.

Speech and language problems

Some of the subtypes of frontotemporal dementia can lead to language impairment or loss of speech. Some subtypes include semantic dementia, primary progressive aphasia, and progressive agrammatic (nonfluent) aphasia.

Common symptoms caused by these subtypes include:

  • Progressive problems understanding and using language, both spoken and written.
  • Problems with naming objects, replacing names with standard terms like “it.”
  • Not knowing the meaning of words
  • Hesitant speech that many sound telegraphic
  • Grammatical mistakes in sentence construction

Motor problems

There are rarer subtypes of frontotemporal dementia characterized by symptoms similar to those associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Parkinson’s disease.

Like those diseases, the person may have motor-related problems like tremors, rigidity, spasms or twitches, muscle weakness, swallowing difficulties, strange laughing or crying, and mobility problems.

How is frontotemporal dementia (FTD) diagnosed?

Subtle changes in behavior or language noticed by family members are often the first step toward an FTD diagnosis. Therefore, having your loved one seen by a healthcare provider as soon as possible is essential.

The medical professional will need to review the symptoms—when they started, how often they appear, medical history (of your loved one and other family members), and any previous medical problems. 

Please include a list of any dietary supplements, OTC medicines, and, of course, the prescription medicines they’re taking. In addition, routine blood tests and physical exams can rule out other health conditions. 

If dementia is suspected, an evaluation of their neurological and neuropsychological status should be performed. That means testing physical responses to basic tests like reflexes, eye movements, muscle tone, touch and sight, along with mental responses like problem-solving skills, decision-making, and language abilities.

The medical professionals might also order a magnetic resonance imaging scan of the areas of the brain (like the frontal lobe) that might be affected.

Some of the tests will also be used to rule out similar diseases like progressive supranuclear palsy. 

However, since there is no single test for FTD, a diagnosis can prove challenging.

Causes of frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is primarily caused by lumps of abnormal proteins that form inside brain cells. 

These proteins generally build up in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain (sides and front parts of the brain). Each of these parts of the brain control behavior, language, and our ability to organize and plan.

Some patients with FTD have tiny structures called Pick bodies in their brain cells. Pick’s disease bodies also contain an abnormal amount or type of protein.

Why these buildups happen in the frontal and temporal lobes is not known. About 1 in 8 of those affected with FTD will have relatives who were also afflicted with the condition. 

This statistic is the main reason why family history is so essential. Anyone who has a relative with FTD should consider a genetic test to see if they’re at risk.

Living with frontotemporal dementia

While there is no specific treatment for any type of FTD or the subtypes, there are medications that may reduce agitation, depression, or irritability to improve their quality of life. Research and clinical trials are being performed right now that may help.

As the disease progresses, its symptoms will tend to worsen. The speed in which someone declines will differ from person to person over the years.

Muscle weakness may result in a patient being wheelchair dependent or bedbound. 

Frontotemporal dementia may also cause problems with chewing, swallowing, or incontinence. Eventually, those with these degenerations may succumb to lung, urinary tract infections, or skin.

Support groups like the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (AFTD) can provide you with more information.

Kensington Sierra Madre’s memory care neighborhoods

A diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia can be devastating to everyone in the family, including the loved ones themselves. The impulse to enrich the quality of life of your family member suffering from this disease is wholly understandable.

At The Kensington Sierra Madre, we are here to help in your caregiving journey. 

Our dedicated team members in our memory care neighborhood have seen daughters, sons, and other family members meet this challenge head-on and the positive results that it can bring.

Everyone who works in our community stands by Our Promise to care for your loved one as we would our own family.

From the most common dementia diseases like Alzheimer’s disease to rarer forms like corticobasal syndrome, The Kensington Sierra Madre has the memory care experience to help you take care of your loved one.

Reach out to us, and see how The Kensington Sierra Madre can help you and your loved one cope and even thrive through this challenge.

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