What Is Frontotemporal Dementia?

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (also known as frontotemporal degeneration, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, or Pick’s disease) is an umbrella term for a group of brain disorders associated with the progressive loss of nerve cells in the frontal lobes and temporal lobes. Shrinkage in these brain regions leads to changes in communication, behavior, personality, and motor skills. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) may be misdiagnosed as a mental health problem or Alzheimer’s disease, so it’s important to include brain imaging when seeking a diagnosis.


Frontotemporal dementia is the most common type of dementia in individuals less than 60 years of age. Click To Tweet


Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a progressive disorder that accounts for approximately 10-20% of dementia cases, according to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (AFTD). FTD is the most common type of dementia in individuals less than 60 years of age. Although it usually strikes in mid-life, it can also develop in people aged 20 to 80.

In general, this neurodegenerative disease affects the temporal lobes (involved in memory, learning, and word retrieval) as well as the frontal lobes (involved in cognitive functions, such as planning, judgment, impulse control, and empathy). This results in a variety of issues that impact everyday life.


The signs and symptoms of FTD vary from one person to the next. In all affected people, however, the symptoms typically worsen over time. More common signs and symptoms of early FTD include:

  • Language and communication problems
  • Personality changes, including feelings of depression or apathy
  • Compulsive behaviors, like repeating words, rubbing hands, or hoarding
  • Lack of inhibition, including cursing, saying rude things, or having aggressive outbursts

Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, FTD does not usually cause memory problems in the initial stages. In the later stages of the disorder, however, memory loss is more likely to occur.


There are two main types of frontotemporal dementia: behavioral frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) and primary progressive aphasia.

Behavioral Variant Frontotemporal Dementia (bvFTD)

Accounting for approximately 50% of all cases, this is the most common form of FTD. BvFTD is associated with nerve cell loss in brain regions associated with conduct, planning, self-control, judgment, empathy, and more.

The primary symptoms include changes in personality, apathy, and a deterioration of interpersonal conduct. People with bvFTD may act in ways that are out of character, including saying or doing things that are socially inappropriate. They may progressively lose self-control, show increasingly poor judgment, or develop a lack of empathy. People with this form of FTD may also engage in compulsive behaviors or experience changes in eating habits. One of the key characteristics of this disease is that affected people are unaware of the personality changes taking place and don’t care how their inappropriate behavior impacts others.

Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA)

People with PPA progressively lose their ability to communicate—speaking, understanding what others are saying, reading, and writing. Individuals may experience difficulty moving their mouth and tongue, which may cause slurred or slowed speech. They may use the wrong words or sounds, omit words, have difficulty recalling words, or have trouble comprehending complex phrases. Like other forms of dementia, PPA is associated with brain atrophy in the frontal and temporal lobes.


When an individual is affected by FTD, it isn’t only the person with the disease who suffers. Considering that frontotemporal dementia can be hard to diagnose, it means families often deal with symptoms for years without answers. Seeing a loved one’s personality, behavior, and ability to communicate change in detrimental ways due to frontotemporal dementia can be heartbreaking and confusing.

For loved ones, it can be hard to pinpoint when symptoms began. Loved ones may normalize the early signs and symptoms of frontotemporal dementia, or they attribute them to other things. But eventually, personality changes, socially inappropriate behavior, and difficulty with communication create a challenging environment.

Prior to receiving a diagnosis, these behaviors and changes may cause loved ones to take things personally, which can strain marital relationships and family dynamics. Ultimately, living with someone who has FTD can be extremely stressful.


Trying to get answers when a person is experiencing personality changes or other symptoms of frontotemporal dementia can be very challenging, but functional brain SPECT imaging can help. SPECT measures blood flow and activity in the brain and reveals areas of the brain with healthy activity, too much activity, or too little activity.

The brain-imaging work at Amen Clinics, which includes over 225,000 brain scans, shows evidence of the neurodegenerative processes associated with dementia years or even decades before symptoms begin. Low blood flow in the frontal and temporal lobes is a common finding in people with frontotemporal dementia.

Identifying the signs of brain atrophy associated with FTD isn’t the only benefit. SPECT can also help rule out FTD and point to other potential causes of a person’s cognitive changes. Common causes of cognitive issues that are treatable include head trauma, exposure to toxins, and infections such as Lyme disease or COVID.

Although FTD is not curable, getting an early diagnosis is important. With an accurate diagnosis, you can begin early interventions to help protect brain health and maximize a person’s life. In addition, loved ones can seek support to cope with the stress of being a caregiver.

Frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other cognitive and mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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