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Dementia describes a set of symptoms associated with brain damage, such as impaired reasoning and memory loss. The part of the brain affected will determine the nature and course of the progression of the symptoms. This helps to explain why memory loss is not always the first sign, although many people view it as the defining feature.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), for example, affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain – areas generally associated with personality, behaviour and language.
Consequently, behaviour is affected more than memory and mental abilities in the early stages of the condition, explains Bupa.
Among the behavioural variant of FTD, one of the main early symptoms is a loss of inhibitions.
“They may gradually stop interacting socially or carrying out their usual hobbies or work activities,” explains Bupa.
Another sign of the behavioural variant is no longer looking after themselves in dress or personal hygiene, says the health body.
Other signs include:
- Lack of concern for other people and the ability to understand their feelings
- Difficulty planning, organising and making decisions
- Repeating behaviour, having rituals and sticking rigidly to routines
- Developing eating fads, overeating or an increasing liking for sweet foods.
How should I respond to symptoms?
“See a GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia,” advises the NHS.
According to the health body, if you’re worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and perhaps suggest you go with them.
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“The GP can do some simple checks to try to find the cause of your symptoms, and they can refer you to a memory clinic or another specialist for further tests if needed,” it adds.
Can I reduce my risk?
Unfortunately, the main risk factors identified for FTD cannot be avoided because they are genetic.
“For behavioural variant FTD, one in every two or three people with the disease could have a family history,” says Alzheimer’s Research UK.
According to the charity, scientists have found a number of faulty genes that can cause inherited forms of FTD, including tau, progranulin and C9ORF72.
“If your doctor suspects a strong family link, you may be offered a genetic test and close relatives may be offered genetic counselling,” it adds.
Lifestyle factors may also influence your risk of FTD, although the research is preliminary at this stage.
One study sought to investigate whether smoking and obesity could be risk factors for FTD.
Ninety patients with FTD and 654 patients with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) were compared with 116 cognitively healthy elderly individuals in a longitudinal design with 15–31 years between measurements of risk factors before the dementia diagnosis.
The researchers found there were significant associations between obesity and FTD.
There were no associations between smoking and FTD, although the unhealthy habit was linked to AD.
It is worth noting that researchers don’t fully understand how the changes to genes and the abnormal protein deposits lead to the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia.
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