FTD Dementia

What to Know about Frontotemporal Dementia

February 23, 2023

The neurological disease known as FTD is a common form of dementia in people under the age of 60.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a neurological disorder in which nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain decrease, impacting a person’s behavior, language, and movement. It is the most common form of dementia for people under the age of 60, according to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. Recently, the family of actor Bruce Willis announced that his previous diagnosis of aphasia had progressed into FTD, raising awareness of a devastating condition that affects an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Americans.

James M. Noble, MD, MS
James M. Noble, MD, MS

Health Matters spoke with Dr. James Noble, a neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center who specializes in the treatment of dementia, to get the facts about FTD, including how it’s different from other neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, symptoms such as personality changes and speech problems, and treatments.

What is frontotemporal dementia?
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is an umbrella term referring to several forms of dementia with overlapping symptoms and genetic causes. There are two main forms of FTD: a behavioral form and a language form.

In the behavioral form, dysfunction of the frontal lobes of the brain can cause changes in attention and concentration, problems organizing thoughts, and profound personality changes, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, changes in relating to other people, lack of empathy, irritability, and uncontrollable sadness or laughter. The behavioral symptoms in FTD may be subtle at first but often come to define the illness.

In the language form, there can be a loss of fluency in speaking, called progressive non-fluent aphasia. In non-fluent aphasia, gradual changes emerge with disrupted, halting, or disjointed speech becoming apparent. Another less common language form, called semantic dementia, has a loss of information associated with words and objects.

Both language and behavioral forms of FTD may be accompanied by physical slowness, tremors, or balance problems called parkinsonism, or a disorder of muscle weakness called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

What causes FTD?
We are able to identify and understand some of the microscopic changes that cause dementia, but do not yet know what specifically causes FTD. Among the causes of dementia, FTD is unique in that about one-third of all people with FTD will have a family history, which is suggestive of a genetic link. Several genes have been implicated in FTD, and genetic testing is more often discussed and considered in FTD than in other dementias. [read more]

Source: Health Matters