Frontotemporal dementia: symptoms, causes and treatments

Frontotemporal dementia is a degenerative disease that affects some lobes of the brain, causing a progressive decrease in size. This leads to behavioral, language, and motor symptoms.

It can be similar to and confused with other types of dementias. Below you will find a short article that summarizes the main characteristics of this condition. Keep reading!

Types of frontotemporal dementia

Depending on the anatomical region involved and the symptoms presented, It is possible to distinguish 3 types of frontotemporal dementia. Of course, there are cases in which the clinical manifestations of the varieties overlap. We explain it to you.

1. Front variant

This is the most common subtype and is characterized by changes in behavior that impair social interaction of the patient progressively. Neither memory nor the ability to perform manual activities are obviously affected.

2. Progressive primary aphasias

Patients affected by this variety present difficulty understanding and speaking spoken language. This can range from problems naming objects to grammar errors. Some of the symptoms may resemble those of Alzheimer's disease.

3. Semantic dementia

The main characteristic of this type of frontotemporal dementia is the difficulty remembering the meaning of words. Although there are also changes in behavior, they are different from the front variant.

For example, patients may spend long periods of time absorbed in manual activities, such as painting.

Alzheimer's and frontotemporal dementia share some symptoms, which is confusing at the time of diagnosis.

Find out more: Is it possible to prevent dementias?

Causes of frontotemporal dementia

This sickness characterized by the progressive decrease in size of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which would explain the symptoms.

According to a review article from 2008, there are genetic alterations related to the pathology. Some of the genes involved are the following:

  • MAPT (microtubule associated protein tau): it is located on chromosome 17 and is related to some clinical forms of frontotemporal dementia in which there are symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease.
  • PGRN (precursor granulin): with a location very similar to the previous one.

Despite these findings, only 20-40% of cases are inherited, so it is likely that there are environmental factors that influence development.

Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia

The clinical manifestations are the result of damage to the corresponding brain lobes. As discussed by the Mayo Clinic, the frontal lobe is related to voluntary body movement and language. On the other hand, memory and behavior have their origins in the parietal lobe.

It usually affects people between 40 and 65 years of age, so the age of presentation is lower than in most dementias.

Symptoms are related to drastic changes in personality, language and movement that appear progressively. Some of the most frequent are the following:

  • Apathy.
  • Loss of social inhibition.
  • Neglect of personal hygiene.
  • Put any type of object in the mouth.
  • Difficulty understanding and emitting oral language.
  • Tremors.
  • Muscle stiffness or weakness.
  • Any type of inappropriate social behavior, like frequent laughs.

All these symptoms cause difficulty in maintaining personal and work relationships, with the consequent isolation.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors usually diagnose temporary dementia by taking into account clinical and imaging aspects. The former include the manifestations described in the previous section, while the latter involve computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies.

The difference between the latter two lies in the quality of the image, the cost, the physical principles by which they act and the emission of radiation. MRI, for example, is a technique that, despite being more expensive, provides clearer images of some brain structures, as well as not emitting radiation.

As part of the diagnostic process specialists must rule out other more frequent neuropsychiatric diseases. This may require blood tests, neuropsychological tests, and tests to assess the quality of sleep.

Keep reading: Differences between CT and MRI

What treatment options are there?

Frontotemporal dementia has no cure. However, taking antipsychotic and antidepressant medications can help improve symptoms, especially when it comes to behavioral problems.

Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are characterized by changing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Within this group, sertraline and fluoxetine stand out.

In the case of antipsychotics, these can also be used for other disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Quetiapine and olanzapine are some examples that could be prescribed in the treatment of frontotemporal dementia.

On the other hand, speech therapy and psychotherapy help both the patient and caregivers to face the disorder more effectively, improving the quality of life.

The application of psychotherapy techniques, support with home caregivers and occupational therapy are adjuncts for clinical cases.

Tips and lifestyle

According to the MSD Manual, this disease greatly affects patients and their loved ones. When advanced stages are reached, there is usually a need for personal caregivers.

They should have an active role and it is preferable that they follow the following recommendations:

  • Learn as much as possible about the disease: This will allow a comprehensive understanding of the problem and avoid frustrations.
  • Distribute responsibilities: It is common for the family burden to be attributed to a few people, although it is advisable to establish effective communication with all those involved to deal with the situation in the best possible way.
  • Do not give up other aspects of life: Although it can be depressing and exhausting, under no circumstances should personal customs and aspirations be neglected.

A problem for the whole family

Frontotemporal dementia, once diagnosed, can represent a real problem for the patient and their families. In case of presenting any of the aforementioned symptoms It is advisable to schedule a consultation with a trusted neurologist or psychiatrist. This will guide the first steps and refer to another specialist when necessary.