Frontotemporal dementia is an umbrella term for a group of uncommon brain disorders that primarily affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These areas of the brain are generally associated with personality, behavior and language.
In frontotemporal dementia, portions of these lobes shrink (atrophy). Signs and symptoms vary, depending on which part of the brain is affected. Some people with frontotemporal dementia have dramatic changes in their personality and become socially inappropriate, impulsive or emotionally indifferent, while others lose the ability to use language properly.
Frontotemporal dementia is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric problem or as Alzheimer’s disease. But frontotemporal dementia tends to occur at a younger age than does Alzheimer’s disease. Frontotemporal dementia often begins between the ages of 40 and 65.
Signs and symptoms of frontotemporal dementia can be different from one individual to the next. Signs and symptoms get progressively worse over time, usually over years.
Clusters of symptom types tend to occur together, and people may have more than one cluster of symptom types.
The most common signs of frontotemporal dementia involve extreme changes in behavior and personality. These include:
- Increasingly inappropriate social behavior
- Loss of empathy and other interpersonal skills, such as having sensitivity to another’s feelings
- Lack of judgment
- Loss of inhibition
- Lack of interest (apathy), which can be mistaken for depression
- Repetitive compulsive behavior, such as tapping, clapping or smacking lips
- A decline in personal hygiene
- Changes in eating habits, usually overeating or developing a preference for sweets and carbohydrates
- Eating inedible objects
- Compulsively wanting to put things in the mouth