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Frontotemporal dementia: What you need to know

Find out all the basic information about Frontotemporal dementia – which is sometimes called Pick’s Disease

In a nutshell

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is rare, affecting around 16,000 people in the UK, however it’s one of the main causes of dementia in younger people. Unlike other forms of dementia, it usually doesn’t cause memory problems at first so it can be difficult to diagnose. It also tends to run in families much more than other types of dementia.

Three facts worth knowing

1. Around 15 per cent of people with FTD have a strong family history of it.

2. FTD is most often diagnosed between the ages of 45-65 though it can affect older people, too. In fact, it’s the most cause of dementia in people under the age of 60.

3. Around 10-20 per cent of those living with FTD will also be affected by a motor disorder, such as motor neuron disease.

What actually happens

Frontotemporal dementia attacks a different part of the brain to Alzheimer’s and therefore causes different symptoms. Behaviour and personality changes are often the first, most notable, symptom and for this reason it can often be mistaken for depression at first. For example, the person affected may seem distant, lost or cold, they may have severe mood swings, lose their inhibitions, become obsessional or crave sweet, fatty food. But sometimes difficulties with language (slow, hesitant speech) or vocabulary (trouble remembering everyday words) are the first signs that something is wrong. As the disease progresses all of these symptoms become more blurred.

Here’s the science

Frontotemporal dementia damages two lobes in the brain, called the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe. The frontal lobe controls behaviour and emotions, and the temporal lobe controls the understanding of words. The damage itself is thought to be caused by clumps of abnormal proteins called ‘Pick bodies’ which clog up and kill nerve cells in these lobes, leading to shrinkage in the brain issue.

Did you know? Frontotemporal dementia is sometimes called Picks disease. It was named after the German scientist Dr Arnold Pick who first described the disease (in 1892) and its abnormal proteins in the brain (the ‘Pick bodies’).

Good to know

• Scientists are currently researching new ways to treat frontotemporal dementia. Find out about the latest clinical trials.

• Speech therapy, psychological therapies and activities such as dementia memory cafes can all help to improve quality of life and manage some of the more distressing symptoms.