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What is Frontotemporal Dementia?

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Frontotemporal dementia is a group of progressive neurological disorders in which the brain's cells degenerate. For caregivers and their loved ones, planning for the future can be challenging because there are three types of FTD. 

Additionally, as the disease progresses, caregivers will need to look into different dementia products, discuss treatments with doctors as more symptoms manifest and consider when specialists should be added to the care team. 

What causes frontotemporal dementia?
The term FTD derives from the areas of the brain that are affected - the frontal and temporal lobes. These control people's emotions, ability to speak and understand speech, planning skills, certain movements and judgment. FTD causes tissue shrinkage in these parts, decreasing brain function. The brain cell damage is referred to as frontotemporal lobar degeneration, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Doctors' understanding of FTD has changed over the years and will continue to do so as research develops. The Alzheimer's Association noted that the condition used to be considered rare. However, medical professionals now believe that it may account for 10 to 15 percent of all dementia cases. For individuals younger than 65 years of age, FTD may be responsible for 20 to 50 percent of dementia cases. FTD usually manifests in people during their 50s and 60s.

Understanding frontotemporal dementia
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke noted that there are many debates in the medical world about frontotemporal dementia. Currently, there are three syndrome groups that make up frontotemporal dementia, but some physicians want to include progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration and rename the group Pick Complex.

Discussions concerning the technical classification and definition of frontotemporal dementia will continue, according to the NINDS. Currently, the designation consists of Pick's disease, primary progressive aphasia and semantic dementia.

  1. Pick's disease: According to the National Library of Medicine, Pick's disease is a broad term for a number of symptoms associated with FTD, including behavioral problems, emotional changes, decreased communication abilities and issues with the nervous system.
  2. Primary progressive aphasia: This is marked by a decline in communication abilities. As the symptoms progress, people have trouble expressing their thoughts and understanding speech. Additionally, they may have trouble reading, according to the NLM.
  3. Semantic dementia: This is sometimes considered to be a subcategory of primary progressive aphasia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In semantic dementia, individuals use general terms instead of specific ones when speaking. Their ability to understand language may also diminish over time.

FTD movement disorders is currently an unofficial category that contains two of the symptom groups that some doctors want to add to FTD - corticobasal degeneration and progressive supranuclear palsy. CBD leads to lack of coordination, rigidity in the muscles, spasms and shakes. PSP causes muscle stiffness and problems with balance, which can lead to falls.

Each of the core symptom groups will lead to different initial symptoms that are unique to each group. However, as FTD progresses, the Alzheimer's Association pointed out that symptoms will begin to overlap. People also experience FTD differently, so some may have particular difficulty with one symptom while others do not. This underscores the importance of working closely with primary care physicians to figure out the best care plan.

Caring for someone with FTD
Caregivers will have to invest in different dementia products depending on the symptoms that their loved ones exhibit. Those who have difficulty speaking or are having a hard time understanding language can benefit from communication aids. These can help caregivers continue to bond with those whom they care for.

If family members with FTD are experiencing difficulty with balance or other movements, purchasing mobility aids sooner rather than later is best practice. A fall can lead to more serious problems. Caregivers can also look for bathroom safety products, which will help loved ones maintain a sense of normalcy and independence.

Regardless of how far along family members' symptoms are, it may be wise to speak to their primary care physicians to discuss whether specialists should be brought in. Speech pathologists and occupational therapists can help loved ones live independently for as long as possible. Ensuring their safety requires a multifaceted approach.  

As FTD progresses, caregivers will likely need to enlist more help or seek emotional support. In these cases, reaching out to other caregivers who have experience with FTD will be ideal. There are unique challenges in caring for loved ones with FTD, including behavioral changes and communication problems. Being able to share thoughts and stories with others who have gone through the same experiences will pay off. Family members with FTD who want to discuss their diagnosis and the challenges of future planning can also attend these sessions.

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