Frontotemporal Dementia.

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Alzheimer’s disease gets a lot of attention. That’s not to say it isn’t warranted, but there are over 70 different causes of dementia. Dementia is really just an “umbrella term” for diseases that cause cognitive decline.

I designed an image to help describe this idea. I’ve listed just a few types of dementia, some more common than others. 

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Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is one of those causes. In fact, frontotemporal dementia is another umbrella term. To keep it simple, when a person has frontotemporal dementia, he or she will present with one or more of the following issues: behavioral challenges, language issues, or a movement disorder. In this blog post, I want to briefly discuss the behavioral type of FTD. 

One of the things that makes frontotemporal dementia so different from Alzheimer’s disease is that FTD often affects people who are between the ages of 40 and 60. Memory loss is also not FTD’s first symptom, although difficulty with memory is usually the first and most obvious change in someone with Alzheimer’s. 

The behavioral type of FTD can be incredibly challenging for caregivers to cope with, especially when it hits someone who is in their 40s or 50s. People with behavioral-type FTD have trouble regulating their behavior.  The part of the brain that is most impaired (the frontal and temporal lobes) normally control your behavior, decision-making, motivation, speech, and “filter” that stops you from saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times.

There are a ton of stories that I’ve heard about behavioral FTD. Most of them concern people doing socially awkward or inappropriate things: a man who rips up the floor in his kitchen months before his family plans on replacing it, a woman who was once a big-name CEO and suddenly seems to lose her ability to manage her employees, a man who fills a grocery cart with $200 worth of groceries and tries to pay for it with a $5 bill.

I spoke to a woman recently who feared that her dad had Alzheimer’s. After listening to her, though, I realized his symptoms were a lot closer to behavioral FTD. Her dad was fairly young, and he was suddenly having major social issues. Although his memory seemed fairly intact, he was unable to continue working at his beloved job. His ex-boss brought him in for an “interview” to see if he could work a few hours a week, but he began saying sexually inappropriate comments to her. His daughter, horrified, realized that her dad couldn’t keep working at the same company.

This isn’t my typical post on Dementia By Day, but I felt this was an important topic. If you love someone with FTD, know that you’re not alone. Although it can feel like Alzheimer’s is the only disease that gets any attention, there are resources out there for you and your family. Feel free to email me with questions or concerns.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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