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Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. There are many different causes of dementia, and many different types. The region of the brain affected determines the subset of dementia and the course of symptoms.
Most people associate the onset of dementia with memory loss but this symptom does not show up until later in certain forms of dementia.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a case in point. FTD affects the front and sides of the brain (the frontal and temporal lobes), which govern behaviour and language,
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common signs of FTD involve extreme changes in behaviour and personality.
As the health body explains, this can take the form of repetitive compulsive behaviour, such as smacking lips.
Other repetitive compulsive behaviours associated with FTD include tapping, clapping, it says.
Some people also experience problems with speech and language, which can eventually cause a person with FTD to lose the ability to speak and become mute, warns the NHS.
Language and speech problems include:
- Using words incorrectly – for example, calling a sheep a dog
- Loss of vocabulary
- Repeating a limited number of phrases
- Forgetting the meaning of common words
- Slow, hesitant speech
- Difficulty making the right sounds to say words
- Getting words in the wrong order
- Automatically repeating things other people have said.
How should I respond?
“See a GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia,” advises the NHS.
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If you’re worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and perhaps suggest you go with them, says the health body.
“The GP can do some simple checks to try to find out the cause of your symptoms, and may refer you to a specialist for further tests,” it adds.
Can I reduce my risk?
Frontotemporal dementia is caused by clumps of abnormal protein forming inside brain cells.
It’s not fully understood why this happens, but there’s often a genetic link.
“For behavioural variant FTD, one in every two or three people with the disease could have a family history,” explains Alzheimer’s Research UK.
According to the charity, scientists have found a number of faulty genes that can cause inherited forms of FTD, including tau, progranulin and C9ORF72.
“If your doctor suspects a strong family link, you may be offered a genetic test and close relatives may be offered genetic counselling,” it says.
Research is ongoing to understand the risk factors that may underpin FTD.
There has been some progress. Research suggests anxiety could be a risk factor for FTD.
Eighty-four patients with FTD and 556 patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) were compared with 117 cognitively healthy, elderly individuals.
Both cases and controls were participants in the second Health Study of Nord-Trøndelag (HUNT2) from 1995 to 1997, in which depression and anxiety were assessed with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).
Significant associations were found between anxiety and FTD and between depression and AD.
A significantly increased risk of developing FTD was observed in patients who had reported anxiety on the HADS.
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