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March 12th, 2009
11:21 AM ET

Can you explain frontal lobe dementia?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Question

A lifelong friend of mine, a "young" 58-year-old, has just been diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia. She was told she's had it for 20 years, but there have been no noticeable symptoms until the last two years. Can you please shed some light on this disease?

 

Answer

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing you friend’s story and for the question. While there are many potential causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s is something that often springs to mind and accounts for about 50 percent of all dementia cases. It is often thought of as an older person’s disease, but it can occur in people that are relatively young, like your friend was. Having never seen your friend or examined her, let me instead talk a little about Alzheimer's. It is a tough thing to understand because we don’t quite know what causes it, or how to cure it.

 

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative problem. You develop these plaques that deposit themselves into the brain. They start to cause memory problems that advance to cognition problems.  

But there is no question it’s one of the fastest-growing diseases in America. Over 5 million people have it and millions of others experience memory loss because of depression, dementia, or just the normal aging process.

We've come to learn that Alzheimer’s does probably have a genetic component.  This may have been the case with your friend, who doctors say has had the disease for 20 years. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a person may go three to 20 years without ever getting a firm diagnosis.  But truth be told, rarely are two patients’ experiences the same. People often have different rates of progression and severity of symptoms.  

 We know you can’t prevent or even cure Alzheimer’s disease but there are ways to boost your memory and possibly lower your risk. Start by making simple lifestyle changes. Studies people who exercise daily are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease versus those who don’t. And don’t stress the small stuff!  Reducing stress protects the brain. Stock up on brain foods like those rich in antioxidants. Blueberries, prunes, nuts, salmon as well as the spice turmeric can help boost your memory.

 

It's important to remember that memory loss is a normal part of aging. In fact we all begin losing brain cells little by little at age 20.  So forgetting part of a story once in a while is completely normal. A possible warning sign of Alzheimer’s is if you forget an entire experience. Do you misplace your keys? Well, that’s normal. In fact, I'm not quite sure where mine are right now. However someone with Alzheimer’s may misplace things in unusual places, such as putting the keys in the freezer.

 

Bottom line is if you spot unusual symptoms in yourself or a loved one, its important to get a properly diagnosis as soon as possible. Alzheimer’s disease may not be the reason for the memory lapses, and many dementia-like symptoms can be treated with medication.

 

Final thought Kathy – Alzheimer’s disease is said to be often harder for friends and family than the patient with Alzheimer’s because it changes relationships.  The Alzheimer’s Association provides a 24-hour hotline for caregivers or family members looking for information, or just someone to talk to.  To find out more information, click here.

 

 


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soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. Jodee K.

    I have been a member of a Frontotemporal Dementia/Lewy Body Support group for three and a half years. It is incredibly sad to continue to hear story after story of the dis-pare and anguish people go through living with and around the disease of FTD. My 61 year old husband is in the process of dying. It has been a slow process; eight years. He was given a death sentence when diagnosed and his two sons, ages 16 and 21, were given the possibility of receiving the same death sentence if a cure is not found. Dear Dr. Gupta please help us in finding a cure for this horrible disease so that my husband and many others will not die in vain. It took me two years to find a diagnosis for my husbands peculiar behavior–help me to save others from having to go through what we went through.

    August 3, 2009 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Marie Sykes

    Dear Dr. Gupta,

    Those of us who have been affected by this devastating disease would have appreciated the attention given to Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) if the response was accurate. FTD is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. The symptoms differ greatly than those of Alzheimer’s.

    An informed answer to this question could have helped many families affected by FTD. This devastating disease strikes relatively early in life, often at a time when an individual is dealing with career challenges and family demands. When misdiagnosed, as was the case in your response, this leads to more frustration and confusion by all who are involved. Please refer to the Association for Frontotemporal Dementias website at http://www.ftd-picks.org/

    My husband was diagnosed with this progressive and irreversible disease at the age of 47. The diagnosis came after two years of personality and behavior changes. Getting a diagnosis was difficult but when it was recommended that he see a neurologist to rule out anything organic, the doctor immediately recognized the symptoms. After several tests including a MRI, spinal tap and neuropsych testing, the diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia was confirmed. In the course of the next two plus years, there were several follow-up visits with the neurologist who told me the disease was progress rapidly. My husband passed away shortly after his 50th birthday.

    Please consider visiting http://www.anevolutionoflove.com to learn more about my family’s journey throughout this demoralizing disease.

    It is with respect that I ask you to research FTD and then give it the voice it desperately needs by educating the public about the symptoms of FTD and some of the problems that arise in caring for a loved one afflicted with this disease.

    Sincerely,
    Marie Sykes
    Co-Author “An Evolution of Love”

    August 10, 2009 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dolores Claesson

      Your husband and many others may have had Borrelia or other pathogens within the brain. We see Frontal lobe dementia with lyme disease and there are articles on this. I am so sorry for your loss.

      October 26, 2012 at 09:51 | Report abuse |
  3. kit

    My mom has FTD and has for years. I am wondering if there is any diagnosis/tests to learn if you may eventually get FTD?

    October 1, 2009 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Chris

    Hi Kit....You would have to have your mother's blood tested to see if she has one of the known mutations. If it turns out that she does have one of the known mutations, you can then be tested after meeting with a genetic counselor and going through the protocol. We had my mother tested and she was found to have FTD-P17 which is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, meaning we, her children, have a 50/50 chance of having inherited the mutated gene. This disease was also in our family, which led her neurologist to suspect that it was an inherited condition in our family.

    October 6, 2009 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Courtney

    My Name is Courtney and Kathy wrote about my Mom. I am 32 years old and live in Greensboro, North Carolina. It has been a hard pill to swallow getting the news of my mom becoming sick with FTD. She was a wonderful, fun-loving person who would do anything for you. She would laugh all the time and was surrounded by people that loved her. Since her diagnosis she has become emotionless, she shows no emotion. She no longer drives, I don't think she can read anymore, or write much. Walking is hard for her and getting dressed, putting on a seatbelt she has difficulty with. When she was first diagnosed we did not notice alot of symtoms and thought that maybe she had something else but currently we have noticed signs of progression. She is currently living in Wilmington, North Carolina with her Husband our step-father. She is far away from friends and family. She is dealing with alot which I think is making her stressed and I know that can worsen the disease. My sister and I both agree that she is depressed although she would never admitt that. Her eating habits are horrible as well. I am currently getting educated through the website ftdpicks.org it had some great information but I wish that I could get invloved locally. If anyone knows locally where I could get involved I would greatly appreciate it. My other concern is do I carry the gene? Thank you to everyone who commented and all of your wonderful stories. Its important to get as much out as possible about this troubling disease. Thanks again!!

    April 28, 2010 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Marlene Morgan

    I am responding the the new post on FTD written by Courtney.

    Please let her know to contact me directly at gmbm@carolina.rr.com. In January 2009, I started a support group in Charlotte, NC which is not too far from Greensboro and we will be having our next meeting on May 9th.

    I do not mind you publishing my email with notation to please contact me if interested in our support group.

    Thank you,

    Marlene Morgan

    April 30, 2010 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • susan brown

      Marlene. Please emai me.
      I need to talk to someone. My husband has frontal lobe dementia and I can get no help. I live in charlotte but most of the time I live near Boone. Please contact me. I need help.

      Thank you

      Susan brown
      336 877 9077

      February 3, 2013 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
  7. Brandi McCullough

    Also, to piggyback on Marlene's comment (and I thank her for making me aware of this blog), Courtney, we have a Memory Clinic here at UNC, whose director is very familiar with FTD.

    Please get in touch if your mother needs clinical care. My email is mcculloughb@neurology.unc.edu.

    Also, we're fortunate enough in NC to have two support groups (most states don't even have one!). I've got one as well here in the triangle area. We meet in Raleigh, NC the second Monday of each month.

    Best regards,

    Brandi McCullough
    UNC Memory Disorders Clinic

    May 4, 2010 at 12:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. debbie Bank

    Front temporal dementia is not alzhimers disease. They are both different and treated diffferently. Sorry but you state its harder on the carers than those who have it cant agree with you. I am one who still has insight and suffering is enormous if you could just go in my body for one day my suffering will out do any carers suffering yes they do suffer carers it is hard but to say they nsuffer more than i do is cruel.

    May 7, 2010 at 02:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. john schmucker

    I've been diagnoised for 5 years from va hospital columbia. i am trying to learn as much as i can. one thing i am trying to find out is if my three years in the philippines when in service could have been my connection. i am appling for my disability monies from the service to try to help my wife after i'm gone. i'm looking for anything that is dealing with toxic materials. please if anybody knows anything please write me back. things are getting worse. i love my wife. please help me. thank-you

    May 22, 2010 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lorna h

      My father has FTD. We see a lot of it in this area, heavily ag, and these older farmers used lots of chemicals that have been banned. No idea if it is related, but seems coincidental to me. FTD is supposed to be more common in women, not so in this area.

      November 2, 2012 at 22:52 | Report abuse |
    • Thom S

      Mr. Schmucker;
      It would help to know when you were in the PI. Agent Orange was shipped thru the PI until the end of the war. If you worked in Supply, Air Freight, Security on Patrol, Roads and Grounds or almost any outdoor function, you may have been exposed to AO. Even on the golf course. Your best bet now is to write your congressman and give him a detailed account of what has happened to you. The VA is just waiting for us old soldiers to move on. Good Luck.

      June 23, 2013 at 17:35 | Report abuse |
  10. debbie bank

    John Schmucker your question is interesting as i had a severe reaction to a medication that was obviously very toxic to my body was never right after this reaction now five years on they tell me by pet scan i have ftd.

    May 28, 2010 at 00:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Helen Ford

    We discoved my husband had FTD in 2006 but he had problems several years before but tried to hide the changes. He was in the military for 20 years and had numerous head traumas. Good luck getting the VA to reconize anything. My husband lived breathed and wore agent orange for a year, he has service connected diabetes but they refuse to reconize any problems with TBI (tramatic brain injury). I have been fighting them for 5 years and will continue to do so. Those who believe that a toxin caused this while in the military get in touch with your congressman. If football players can get congress to admit TBI why can't we get it for our soldiers who give their lives for our country. My husband is now in skilled health facility as I can no longer care for his needs in the way he deservrs. I miss him and see him each day he has no feelings for missing me or our family. Its heartbreaking to see a Sargeant Major in this condition. God Bless each of you dealing with this disease.

    March 11, 2011 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tamara Porter

      Madame, I have been for the last four hitting the same roadblocks. I was hoping we might be able to connect to compare notes. Thank You

      October 14, 2012 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
  12. Elizabeth L.

    I think highly of Dr. Gupta, from what I have seen of his work on CNN. He seems to be caring, intelligent, and interested in educating people and helping them to live healthy lives. Given my good opinion of Dr. Gupta, I am really disappointed with his response to this question. I am further disappointed that he didn't answer reader's concerns about his response. I wonder if anyone at CNN is reading any of these responses, and letting Dr. Gupta know that his answer missed the mark? It is my sense of Dr. Gupta as a person that if he were made aware of his error he would have apologized and provided more relevant information.

    Not having set up feedback in your system really limits its usefulness. I hope someone at CNN sees this comment, and those of the many other commenters, and takes action on this issue.

    In more detail:

    I was bewildered that Dr. Gupta responded to a question about frontal lobe dementia with an answer on Alzheimers. I was dismayed that after a majority of those commenting on the article pointed out the difference, that Dr. Gupta never responded, apologized, and corrected his error. Alzheimers is more common than frontal lobe dementia (AKA frontotemperal lobe dementia or FTL.) But that means that people with a diagnosis of FTL and their family members may have greater trouble finding information that applies to their situation. This makes it all the more important to respond to the writers question, and not to simply answer about the more common and better known condition.

    Just a quick review of the Mayo Clinic's article on frontotemporal dementia http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/frontotemporal-dementia/DS00874 specifies that FTL and Alzheimers are different conditions with different symptoms. People with FTL do not have the memory loss problems that are typical of people with Alzheimers. People with FTL also rarely experience hallucinations or delusions that often (but not always) occur with Alzheimers. The problems people with FTL experience are more of a personality change, becoming more hostile and aggressive, more withdrawn and apathetic, or more rigid and compulsive. Both conditions are dementias, but the part of the brain that is being damaged is different. Obviously the care issues will be different for people who are losing their memory, than for people who still have their memory but are aggressive or socially inappropriate.

    Please find someone on your staff to review what people write and give feedback to your news staff and reporters.

    November 1, 2011 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lorna h

      My thoughts exactly! They are not the same things!! This, from a doctor?

      November 2, 2012 at 22:55 | Report abuse |
  13. Louseb Meinertn

    I used to be suggested this website via my cousin. I'm not positive whether or not this post is written by way of him as nobody else realize such targeted about my trouble. You are incredible! Thank you!

    July 30, 2012 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.