The progression of frontotemporal dementia

This page explains how frontotemporal dementia progresses, from the early stages onwards.

This type of dementia is caused by damage to the frontal and/or temporal lobes at the front and sides of the brain by the ears. These are the areas responsible for our behaviour, our emotional responses and our language skills. There are three different types of frontotemporal dementia – one type that affects behaviour first, and two that affect language first.

During the early stages of frontotemporal dementia, memory of recent events may be unaffected. However, there will be other changes.

A person with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia may appear uncharacteristically selfish and unfeeling. They may behave rudely, or may seem more easily distracted. Other early symptoms may include loss of inhibition, ritualised behaviour (eg tapping or repeatedly walking the same route) or compulsions and a liking for sweet foods. It is much more likely for those around the person to be aware of these changes than the person is themselves.

In a small number of people with frontotemporal dementia, the first symptoms are problems with recalling the names of objects and understanding words (semantic dementia) or with producing fluent speech (progressive non-fluent aphasia).

As frontotemporal dementia progresses, differences between these types lessen: people with the behavioural variant develop language problems and those with language problems develop behaviour changes. In the later stages, the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia become more similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease. There are some differences – for example, day-to-day memory loss and problems judging distance or seeing objects in three dimensions develop later in frontotemporal dementia, whereas changes in behaviour, such as agitation or aggression, develop earlier. Supporting a person with frontotemporal dementia can be a challenge as they may be younger and will have changes in behaviour and communication.

Each person’s experience of frontotemporal dementia will be different, but on average people live for six to eight years after symptoms begin.

Frontotemporal dementia

Read more about frontotemporal dementia, including the causes, symptoms, treatment and support.

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