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Recognizing Signs & Caring for a Patient with Frontotemporal Dementia

by Karen Mozzer on 5/15/14 2:19 PM

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is described as a clinical syndrome that is associated with the shrinking of the frontal lobes and anterior temporal lobe of the brain. types-of-ftd

Since the signs of FTD usually show up at a young age, some people develop signs as early as their 30’s. While the majority of people suffering from frontotemporal dementia start to develop signs in their 40’s and 50’s. As where Alzheimer’s usually shows up in individuals after the age of 64.

FTD is diagnosed /confirmed by an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging); the MRI shows the two affected lobes of the brain. The radiologist looks for atrophy (deterioration) in the frontal and anterior temporal lobes of the brain.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease. FTD is a rare, sub-type of Alzheimer’s. Approximately 2-5% (100,000 to 250,000) of the 5 million actually has FTD. The statistics may be slightly higher because FTD is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric disorder.

The main difference between frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s is individuals with FTD do not experience memory loss, the first and most significant sign in diagnosing Alzheimer’s.

Two Types of FTD

The first type is behavioral changes. The individual may suffer from the following signs:

  • Inappropriate social behavior
  • Severe boredom and lethargy
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of social skills and social tact
  • Easily distracted
  • Easily aggregated
  • Loss of personal awareness (interest in oneself or others) including neglected personal hygiene, lack of motivation and energy
  • Diminished emotions
  • Compulsive and repetitive actions
  • Unusual physical, verbal, or sexual behavior

The second type of FTD presents as problems with language including:

  • Difficulty speaking and finding the right words to express themselves
  • Difficulty understanding speech (understanding what simple words mean)
  • Difficulty reading and writing

Tips for Caregivers:  How to Care for an Individual with Frontotemporal dementia

The care you would provide for a patient with frontotemporal dementia is completely different than the type of care you would provide for a patient with Alzheimer’s. Even though FTD is a sub type of Alzheimer’s, they are two entirely different conditions.

All caregivers working in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities, and rest homes that will be providing care for a patient with frontotemporal dementia, need to be educated on how to care for and communicate with their patients. Below is a list of suggestions:

  • Be yourself - A personal approach is more effective than a clinical one.
  • When talking to your patient(s) avoid using slang, jargon or technical words.
  • Listen to your patient and their family. They are most likely frightened and have no idea how to help or communicate with their loved one. If appropriate, offer suggestions to help the family to understand what FTD is and how to interact with their loved one. 
  • Show genuine concern to both your patient and their family.
  • Never ignore your patient when talking to the family just because they may not understand what you are saying; they are still in the room.
  • Provide the family with resources (websites, organizations, and support groups.)

When caring for a patient with FTD it is very important to remember they are not “themselves” and their behavior at times may be offensive to you, it’s not their fault. Put yourself in their place and imagine if the life you knew and all the things you use to be able to do, were gone. How would you want to be treated?

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