4 Must-Know Facts on Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD)

Medically reviewed in February 2021

Many of us have heard of Alzheimer’s disease, but few are familiar with frontotemporal degeneration (FTD)—formerly referred to as frontotemporal dementia. This group of brain disorders is the most common cause of dementia in people under the age of 60 and affects some 50,000-60,000 Americans.

FTD dramatically affects a person’s ability function mentally and physically. It typically leads to death within five years of diagnosis, and there is no cure. Here are four must-know facts about frontotemporal degeneration.

1. Parts of the Brain Shrink
With frontotemporal degeneration, the nerve cells in the brain’s frontal lobes (the area behind your forehead) and temporal lobes (the area behind your ears) deteriorate and shrink. This can cause serious and devastating changes in personality, behavior, language and the ability to move. Here are a few examples of symptoms associated with FTD:

  • Socially inappropriate behavior
  • Difficulty understanding words and naming objects
  • Focus on repetitive or compulsive routines
  • Lack of empathy
  • Apathy and depression
  • Problems with reasoning and judgment
  • Clumsiness and frequent falls
  • Stiffness and slowness of movements
  • Impulsive, even illegal behavior—including stealing and physical assault 

Because many of these symptoms overlap with other conditions, and because people with FTD are often younger than the expected age for someone with dementia, FTD is commonly misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or even addiction.

2. FTD Can Cause Dementia In Your 40s—or Younger
About 10-15% of people with dementia have FTD. The disease typically appears in people in their mid-40s to 60s, though it’s possible to develop the condition earlier. FTD sometimes runs in families, so if you have a relative with FTD, your chances of developing the disease may be higher.

3. There’s No Way to Stop It
Unfortunately, no medicine, supplement or behavioral intervention can slow the progress of this incurable, devastating disease. A few treatments, however, can help with certain symptoms—for a time. Physical therapy may ease issues with movement; a speech-language pathologist may be able to help with language and communication. There is also some support for the use of antidepressants to treat behavioral symptoms, such as aggression and impulsive behavior, associated with FTD.

4. Research Is Under Way
While so little is known about FTD, major breakthroughs surrounding degenerative brain diseases are happening all the time. Through clinical trials, SPECT scans and genetic research, scientists are trying to find better ways to track the progression of the disease, with the ultimate goal of identifying new drugs that can treat—and maybe one day cure—FTD.

Visit the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration.

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