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Frontotemporal Dementia...What Is It?

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is an umbrella term for a group of uncommon brain disorders that primarily affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Each disorder can be identified according to the symptoms that appear first and most prominently, whether in behavior (behavioral variant FTD), changes in the ability to speak and understand language (primary progressive aphasia) or in movement (corticobasal syndrome, progressive supranuclear palsy).

In FTD, portions of these lobes shrink (atrophy). Signs and symptoms vary, depending on which part of the brain is affected. Some people with FTD have dramatic changes in their personality and become socially inappropriate, impulsive or emotionally indifferent, while others lose the ability to use language properly.


FTD is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric problem or as Alzheimer's disease. But FTD tends to occur at a younger age than does Alzheimer's disease. About 60 percent of frontotemporal dementia cases occur from age 45 to 64, but people in their 30s can also get it. Most people with Alzheimer’s disease do not exhibit symptoms until their mid-60s or older. Alzheimer’s disease impacts about 5.8 million Americans meanwhile experts estimate that only about 25,000 to 50,000 people in the United States have one of the several forms of frontotemporal dementia.


In a recent study, researchers looked to describe how physical and cognitive activities may relate to brain health for the first time in autosomal dominant FTD individuals. People with FTD in the study were mostly asymptomatic or had only mild, early-stage symptoms. Caregivers were asked to rate their loved one's cognitive and physical activity over several years. The type of physical activity wasn't critical as it could have been activities like walking, jogging, even doing heavy housework or yard chores.


At the start of the study the participants underwent MRIs of the brain as well as neurocognitive tests that tested their thinking and memory. These were then rechecked annually. At the end of two years the researchers found that despite continued degeneration of brain tissue on scans, the people who scored in the top 25% of either mental or physical activity performed twice as well on cognitive tests as those in the lowest 5% of activity.


Neurologist Dr. Kaitlin Casaletto stated that the "studies show even walking is associated with better cognitive outcomes" and "it seems that every movement counts." The researchers noted that living a cognitively active lifestyle (such as reading, writing, going to a concert, socializing, doing games, puzzles or hobbies) is important as it is something that can challenge the brain. Dr. Casaletto stated that their "results suggest that even people with a genetic predisposition for FTD can still take actions to increase their chances of living a long and productive life." Future research is needed with larger sample sizes and more detailed and objective assessments of participants’ physical and mental activity. However, research such as this can be another great starting point for increasing the awareness of FTD and for recruiting individuals from families who have had FTD.


If you live in the New Jersey or New York area and would like to schedule a neuropsychological evaluation for yourself or a family member in order to determine if there have been any potential cognitive changes that would be atypical or unexpected for your age please contact Dr. Corey Burchette at 201-577-8286 to inquire about scheduling an appointment at the New Jersey Memory Center which is located in Verona, New Jersey. Easily accessible from many points in North Jersey (including Montclair, Upper Montclair, Cedar Grove, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Caldwell, West Caldwell, North Caldwell, Totowa, Wayne, Little Falls, West Orange, Maplewood, Livingston, and many more).

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