Dementia is commonly thought of as a disease but that description is inaccurate. Rather than a single disease; it is an umbrella term for a range of disorders caused by brain damage. Each form of dementia is made up of a cluster of symptoms that get progressively worse over time.
The specific set of symptoms a person experiences is determined by the region of the brain that has been damaged.
A rarer form of dementia is frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which refers to a group of disorders caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes (the areas behind your forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind your ears).
These parts of the brain are responsible for language and behaviour and both cover a wide range of functions.
There are three main types of FTD dementia:
- Behavioural variant FTD
- Progressive non-fluent aphasia
- Semantic dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society (AS), the semantic variant is caused by brain damage to the left temporal lobe.
The left temporal lobe usually deals with the meaning of words and the names of objects.
As the AS explains, in semantic dementia, speech is fluent but people begin to lose their vocabulary and understanding of what objects are.
This may take the form of asking the meaning of familiar words, for example, “What is ‘bread?'”
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Other common early symptoms include:
- Trouble finding the right word, leading to descriptions instead (eg ‘the thing for opening tins’), or use of less precise words (eg ‘animal’ instead of ‘cat’)
- Difficulty recognising familiar people or common objects.
When to seek medical advice
According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia.
“If you’re worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and perhaps suggest you go with them,” advises the health body.
As it explains, 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.
Am I at risk?
According to AS, About 10-15 percent of people with FTD have a very strong family history of the condition – this means having three or more relatives with FTD across at least two generations.
If you carry the genetic mutation, research suggests there is cause for optimism, however.
According to a study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, living an active lifestyle is associated with less functional decline.
Genetic mutation carriers who had more active lifestyles were found to have more than 55 percent slower decline per year.
The study involved 105 people who carry the genetic mutation that causes FTD. All were either asymptomatic or had mild, early-stage symptoms.
Also included were 69 people who did not carry the genetic mutation.
Participants took a series of cognitive and memory tests. They were questioned about current levels of mental and physical activity. That included such things as socialising, reading, and walking.
MRIs of the brain were used to assess the degree of brain degeneration.
Follow-up MRI scans one year into the study showed that lifestyle did not have a significant impact on brain degeneration due to FTD.
However, those who were most mentally and physically active did twice as well on cognitive tests than those who were least active.
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