Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of Frontal Lobe Dementia
What Is Frontal Lobe Dementia?
Frontal lobe dementia isn’t one condition. It’s several disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Personality, emotions, behavior and speech are controlled in these areas of the brain. These disorders cause the brain to lose brain cell function.
Frontal lobe dementia is also sometimes called frontotemporal dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, frontal lobe dementia accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all dementia cases.
The symptoms of frontal lobe dementia depend on the areas of the brain affected. Most symptoms can be divided into one of two categories: behavior or language.
Common behavioral symptoms of frontal lobe dementia include:
- inappropriate actions
- lack of inhibition or restraint
- neglect of personal hygiene and care
- compulsive behavior
Common language-related symptoms of frontal lobe dementia include:
- difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- language recall problems
The Three Kinds of Frontal Lobe Dementia
Doctors and researchers divide frontal lobe dementia into three categories. These include:
- Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. This type mainly affects personality and behavior.
- Primary progressive aphasia. This type affects speech at first. As it develops, it begins to affect behavior.
- Progressive nonfluent aphasia. People with this variant lose their ability to recall words easily. Their speech grows more difficult.
The type of frontal lobe dementia is determined by the most prominent symptoms.
Frontal lobe dementia has one known risk factor: your genes. Scientists have found several genes related to frontal lobe dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If one of your family members is diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia, you have a greater risk. If you are diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia, your family members will have a higher risk, too.
Not everyone with a family history will develop a problem. More than half of the individuals diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia do not have a family history.
Researchers have not identified a single cause for this type of dementia, but they have some ideas. Some people’s brains develop abnormal protein structures. These structures are called Pick bodies, so this type of dementia is called Pick’s disease.
Researchers have also identified abnormal proteins that may play a role. These proteins, found in brain cells of individuals who died with dementia, may affect how the brain works. Unfortunately, however, researchers do not know why these proteins develop or how to prevent them.
Doctors cannot diagnose frontal lobe dementia with a single test. Instead, your doctors will try to rule out other conditions or diseases that cause similar symptoms.
Some of the tests used to diagnose frontal lobe dementia include:
- Blood tests. These can help identify other possible causes.
- Neuropsychological testing. These tests check your judgment and memory skills. They can help you doctors decide what type of dementia you may have.
- Brain imaging. Doctors will check for obvious problems, such as tumors or blood clots.
- MRI. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test gives doctors a detailed image of your brain.
- CT scan. A computerized tomography (CT) scan creates images of your brain in layers.
Frontal lobe dementia cannot be cured. Treatment is aimed at on managing and alleviating symptoms.
Common treatments include:
- Medications. Some antidepressants can help reduce the behavioral problems caused by changes to the brain. Antipsychotic medications are also used to treat behavioral problems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any of these treatments.
- Speech therapy. Speech therapy can help you learn to cope with speech difficulties. A speech therapist can also help you find alternative ways to communicate.
Medication can be effective for treating dementia, but lifestyle treatments can help, too. Helping people find a comfortable environment can help them cope with the symptoms of dementia.
Environment is important. Maintaining an environment that does not upset someone is vital. People with behavior problems need to be in environments that are familiar. They may also need to avoid large crowds.
People with speech problems may need to be in environments where communication is easier. They may wish to keep tools for communicating, like a pen and paper, with them all the time.
In the early stages, the symptoms and signs of frontal lobe dementia can be cared for and treated with good results. Late-stage frontal lobe dementia can take years to develop. As the disease progresses, 24-hour care may become necessary.
Frontal lobe dementia shortens a person’s life span. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, most people with a frontal lobe dementia disorder live an average of six to eight years after the first symptoms appear. In some cases, people live as few as two years.
Getting Help for Frontal Lobe Dementia
If a loved one is experiencing difficulty with speech or noticeable changes in behavior, make an appointment to speak with their doctor. Try to attend the appointment with them. Make a list of incidents that you have noticed. It can help a doctor determine what steps to take for diagnosing the symptoms.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a frontal lobe dementia disorder or are caring for someone who has, find support groups in your area. The health education office of your local hospital should be able to help you find support groups. Learning to cope with the effects of frontal lobe dementia can be difficult, but help is available.
- Frontotemporal dementia. (2011, 19 Oct). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved October 9, 2013 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/frontotemporal-dementia/DS00874.
- Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD). (2013). Alzheimer's Association. Retrieved October 9, 2013 from http://www.alz.org/dementia/fronto-temporal-dementia-ftd-symptoms.asp.
- NINDS Frontotemporal Dementia Information Page. (2013, 4 June). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved October 9, 2013 from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/picks/picks.htm.
- Pick’s disease. (2012, 16 Feb). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health. Retrieved October 10, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000744.htm.
- Bei Hu, BS et al. Off-Label Medication Use in Frontotemporal Dementia. American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias. 2010 March; 25(2): 128–133. Retrieved October 13, 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862544/.