Frontotemporal dementia: what is it?

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is one of the less common types of dementia. Find out about frontotemporal dementia and what causes it.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) covers a wide range of different conditions. It is sometimes called Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia. This page explains what FTD is, its symptoms, and who gets it. It also describes how it is diagnosed and the treatment and support that is available.

The word ‘frontotemporal’ refers to the lobes of the brain that are damaged in this type of dementia. The frontal lobes of the brain, found behind the forehead, deal with behaviour, problem-solving, planning and the control of emotions. An area of usually the left frontal lobe also controls speech.

The temporal lobes – on either side of the brain – have several roles. The left temporal lobe usually deals with the meaning of words and the names of objects. The right temporal lobe is usually involved in recognising faces and familiar objects. 

Find out about the brain and dementia

Knowing more about the brain can help you understand dementia better.  Read more to find out how the brain is affected. 

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Frontotemporal dementia occurs when nerve cells in the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain die, and the pathways that connect the lobes change. Some of the chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells are also lost. Over time, as more and more nerve cells die, the brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes shrinks.

When the frontal and/or temporal lobes are damaged in this way, this causes the symptoms of FTD. These include changes in personality and behaviour, and difficulties with language. These symptoms are different from the memory loss often associated with more common types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. As FTD is a less common form of dementia, many people (including some health professionals) may not have heard of it.

Frontotemporal dementia and younger people

Frontotemporal dementia is a significant cause of dementia in younger people – that is, those under the age of 65. Frontotemporal dementia is probably the third most common cause of dementia in this age group and some studies even place it second most common. It affects men and women roughly equally.

Frontotemporal dementia is most often diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 65. However, it can also affect people younger or older than this, and it is probably under-recognised in older people. Even so, this ‘peak age’ for FTD (the age at which it is most often diagnosed) is much younger than the age at which people are most often diagnosed with the more common types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Being diagnosed at a younger age is likely to present someone with a different set of challenges. They may still be working, have financial commitments or dependent children, and want different services and support. 

Young-onset dementia

People with dementia whose symptoms started before they were 65 are often described as ‘younger people with dementia’ or as having young-onset dementia. 

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