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Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)


Juebin Huang

, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2023

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) refers to sporadic and hereditary disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes, including Pick disease.

Dementia is chronic, global, usually irreversible deterioration of cognition. Frontotemporal dementia accounts for up to 10% of dementias. Age at onset is typically younger (age 55 to 65) than in Alzheimer disease Alzheimer Disease Alzheimer disease causes progressive cognitive deterioration and is characterized by beta-amyloid deposits and neurofibrillary tangles in the cerebral cortex and subcortical gray matter. Diagnosis... read more . FTDs affect men and women about equally.

Pick disease is a term used to describe pathologic changes in FTD, including severe atrophy, neuronal loss, gliosis, and presence of abnormal neurons (Pick cells) containing inclusions (Pick bodies).

About half of FTDs are inherited; most mutations involve chromosome 17q21-22 and result in abnormalities of the microtubule-binding tau protein; thus, FTDs are generally considered tauopathies. Some experts classify supranuclear palsy Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) Progressive supranuclear palsy is a rare, degenerative central nervous system disorder that progressively impairs voluntary eye movements and causes bradykinesia, muscular rigidity with progressive... read more and corticobasal degeneration with FTDs because they share similar pathology and gene mutations affecting the tau protein. Symptoms, gene mutations, and pathologic changes may not correspond to each other. For example, the same mutation causes FTD symptoms in one family member but symptoms of corticobasal degeneration in another.

  • Dementia affects mainly memory, is typically caused by anatomic changes in the brain, has slower onset, and is generally irreversible.

  • Delirium affects mainly attention, is typically caused by acute illness or drug toxicity (sometimes life threatening), and is often reversible.

Other specific characteristics also help distinguish the dementia and delirium (see table ).

Symptoms and Signs of Frontotemporal Dementia

Generally, frontotemporal dementia affects personality, behavior, and usually language function (syntax and fluency) more and memory less than does Alzheimer disease Alzheimer Disease Alzheimer disease causes progressive cognitive deterioration and is characterized by beta-amyloid deposits and neurofibrillary tangles in the cerebral cortex and subcortical gray matter. Diagnosis... read more . Abstract thinking and attention (maintaining and shifting) are impaired; responses are disorganized. Orientation is preserved, but retrieval of information may be impaired. Motor skills are generally preserved. Patients have difficulty sequencing tasks, although visuospatial and constructional tasks are affected less.

Some patients develop motor neuron disease with generalized muscle atrophy, weakness, fasciculations, bulbar symptoms (eg, dysphagia, dysphonia, difficulty chewing), and increased risk of aspiration pneumonia and early death.

There are different types of frontotemporal dementias, depending on which part of the brain is affected.

Behavioral (frontal) variant FTD

Social behavior and personality change because the orbitobasal frontal lobe is affected. Patients become impulsive and lose their social inhibitions (eg, they may shoplift); they neglect personal hygiene. Impersistence (impaired concentration), inertia, and mental rigidity may appear. Some have Klüver-Bucy syndrome, which involves emotional blunting, hypersexual activity, hyperorality (eg, bulimia, sucking and smacking of lips), and visual agnosias.

Behavior becomes repetitive and stereotyped (eg, patients may walk to the same location every day). Patients may pick up and manipulate random objects for no reason (called utilization behavior).

Verbal output is reduced; echolalia, perseveration (inappropriate repetition of a response), and eventually mutism occur.

Primary progressive aphasia

Language function deteriorates because of asymmetric (worse on left) anterolateral temporal lobe atrophy; the hippocampus and memory are relatively spared. Most patients present with difficulty finding words. Attention (eg, digit span) may be severely impaired. Many patients have aphasia Aphasia Aphasia is language dysfunction that may involve impaired comprehension or expression of words or nonverbal equivalents of words. It results from dysfunction of the language centers in the cerebral... read more , with decreased fluency and difficulty comprehending language; hesitancy in speech production and dysarthria are also common. In some patients, aphasia is the only symptom for 10 years; in others, global cognitive deficits develop within a few years.

Semantic dementia is a type of primary progressive aphasia. When the left side of the brain is affected most, the ability to comprehend words is progressively lost. Speech is fluent but lacks meaning; a generic or related term may be used instead of the specific name of an object. When the right side is affected most, patients have progressive anomia (inability to name objects) and prosopagnosia (inability to recognize familiar faces). They cannot remember topographic relationships. Some patients with semantic dementia also have Alzheimer disease Alzheimer Disease Alzheimer disease causes progressive cognitive deterioration and is characterized by beta-amyloid deposits and neurofibrillary tangles in the cerebral cortex and subcortical gray matter. Diagnosis... read more .

Diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia

  • Generally similar to diagnosis of other dementias

  • Additional clinical evaluation to differentiate from some other dementias

  • Cognitive or behavioral (neuropsychiatric) symptoms interfere with the ability to function at work or do usual daily activities.

  • These symptoms represent a decline from previous levels of functioning.

  • These symptoms are not explained by delirium or a major psychiatric disorder.

Diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia is suggested by typical clinical findings (eg, social disinhibition or impaired language function with relative sparing of memory).

CT and MRI are done to determine location and extent of brain atrophy and to exclude other possible causes (eg, brain tumors, abscesses, stroke). FTDs are characterized by severely atrophic, sometimes paper-thin gyri in the temporal and frontal lobes. However, MRI or CT may not show these changes until late in FTD. Thus, FTDs and Alzheimer disease can usually be differentiated more easily by clinical criteria. For example, primary progressive aphasia differs from Alzheimer disease in that memory and visuospatial function are preserved and syntax and fluency are impaired.

Positron emission tomography (PET) with fluorine-18 (18F)–labeled deoxyglucose (fluorodeoxyglucose, or FDG) may help differentiate Alzheimer disease from FTD by showing differences in location of hypometabolic areas. In Alzheimer disease, these areas are located in the posterior temporoparietal association cortex and posterior cingulate cortex; in FTD, they are located in the anterior regions—in the frontal lobes, anterior temporal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex.

Treatment of Frontotemporal Dementia

  • Supportive measures

There is no specific treatment for frontotemporal dementia. Treatment is generally supportive Treatment Dementia is chronic, global, usually irreversible deterioration of cognition. Diagnosis is clinical; laboratory and imaging tests are usually used to identify treatable causes. Treatment is... read more . For example, the environment should be bright, cheerful, and familiar, and it should be designed to reinforce orientation (eg, placement of large clocks and calendars in the room). Measures to ensure patient safety (eg, signal monitoring systems for patients who wander) should be implemented.

Symptoms are treated as needed.

Prognosis for Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementias usually progress gradually, but progression rate varies; if symptoms are limited to speech and language, progression to general dementia may be slower.

End-of-life issues

Because insight and judgment deteriorate in patients with dementia, appointment of a family member, guardian, or lawyer to oversee finances may be necessary. Early in dementia, before the patient is incapacitated, the patient’s wishes about care should be clarified, and financial and legal arrangements (eg, durable power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health care Durable power of attorney for health care Advance directives are legal documents that extend a person's control over health care decisions in the event that the person becomes incapacitated. They are called advance directives because... read more ) should be made. When these documents are signed, the patient’s capacity Capacity (Competence) and Incapacity Historically, “incapacity” was considered primarily a clinical finding, and “incompetency” was considered a legal finding. That distinction, at least in terminology, is no longer firmly recognized... read more should be evaluated, and evaluation results recorded. Decisions about artificial feeding and treatment of acute disorders are best made before the need develops.

NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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