Frontotemporal dementia

Find out about the main symptoms of frontotemporal dementia and when to get medical advice.

Frontotemporal dementia usually causes changes in behaviour or language problems at first.

These come on gradually and get worse slowly over time.

Eventually, most people will experience problems in both of these areas. Some people also develop physical problems and difficulties with their mental abilities.

Behaviour and personality changes

Many people with frontotemporal dementia develop a number of unusual behaviours they're not aware of.

These can include:

  • being insensitive or rude
  • acting impulsively or rashly 
  • loss of inhibitions
  • seeming subdued
  • losing interest in people and things
  • losing drive and motivation
  • inability to empathise with others, seeming cold and selfish
  • repetitive behaviours, such as humming, hand-rubbing and foot-tapping, or routines such as walking exactly the same route repetitively
  • overeating, a change in food preferences, such as suddenly liking sweet foods, and poor table manners
  • neglecting personal hygiene

As the condition progresses, people with frontotemporal dementia may become socially isolated and withdrawn.

Language problems

Some people experience problems with speech and language, including:

  • using words incorrectly – for example, calling a sheep a dog
  • loss of vocabulary 
  • repeating a limited number of phrases
  • forgetting the meaning of common words
  • slow, hesitant speech
  • difficulty making the right sounds to say words
  • getting words in the wrong order
  • automatically repeating things other people have said

Some people gradually lose the ability to speak, and can eventually become completely mute.

Problems with mental abilities

Problems with thinking don't tend to occur in the early stages of frontotemporal dementia, but these often develop as the condition progresses.

These can include:

  • difficulty working things out and needing to be told what to do 
  • poor planning, judgement and organisation
  • becoming easily distracted
  • thinking in a rigid and inflexible way
  • losing the ability to understand abstract ideas
  • difficulty recognising familiar people or objects
  • memory difficulties, although this isn't common early on

Physical problems

In the later stages, some people with frontotemporal dementia develop physical problems and difficulties with movement.

These can include:

Some people have frontotemporal dementia overlapping with other neurological (nerve and brain) problems, including:

Getting medical advice

See your GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia. If you're worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with their GP and perhaps suggest you go with them.

Your 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.

It's usually very helpful to have someone at the consultation who knows you well and can give the specialist another perspective on your symptoms.

Read more about:

Getting a dementia diagnosis

Tests used to diagnose dementia

Advice if you're worried someone else could have dementia


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