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What is frontotemporal dementia?

Susan Barber Lindquist, Mayo Clinic News Network on

Published in Health & Fitness

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a group of neurologic disorders associated with changes in personality, behavior, language or movement. Some FTD forms are inherited, and some are not. Typically, people develop FTD symptoms before age 60.

While there is no cure for this progressive decline, FTD research has made significant strides in the past two decades, says Dr. Bradley Boeve, a Mayo Clinic neurologist.

"There are few other neurodegenerative disorders where we have learned so much over a relatively short period of time," says Dr. Boeve, a co-principal investigator of the ALLFTD Study, an international consortium funded by the National Institutes of Health to target FTD.

"We understand the biology of the disease that much better. The optimism for therapeutics is so much greater than even two or three years ago. There's definitely hope."

What are the types of FTD disorders?

As the name suggests, FTD affects the frontal lobe and/or temporal lobes of the brain. Signs and symptoms vary, depending on which part of the brain is atrophying, or shrinking. Genetic mutations and dysfunctional proteins in the brain have been linked to FTD.


Several disorders fall under the umbrella term of frontotemporal degeneration.

• Frontotemporal dementia (also known as behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia): Brain changes, primarily in the frontal lobe, cause the personality and behavior changes of frontotemporal dementia. Common signs are:Increasingly inappropriate social behavior, Loss of empathy and other people skills, such as having sensitivity to another's feelingsLack of judgmentLoss of inhibitionLack of interest (apathy), which can be mistaken for depressionRepetitive compulsive behavior, such as tapping, clapping or smacking lipsDecline in personal hygiene Changes in eating habits, usually overeating or preferring sweets and carbohydrates

"Personality (and) behavior changes tend to occur early. Disinhibited behavior — doing things that are a bit off-color or out of character for that individual," Dr. Boeve explains. "Loss of empathy, for example, if someone were to be at a funeral, not showing the usual types of sorrow for such a somber setting."

• Primary progressive aphasia: People lose the ability to speak and write, and/or understand written or spoken language. Primary progressive aphasia also has subtypes.


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