Health + Wellness

A Neurologist Shares What You Need to Know

frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a rare and progressive form of dementia that primarily affects people between the ages of 40 to 65 years old. With the recent diagnosis of Wendy Williams, sat down with Donna Newsome, M.D., a neurologist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano to discuss how FTD differs from other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and the early warning signs and diagnosis process. She also discusses the genetic factors associated with FTD and offers practical advice for caregivers.

Could you explain what primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia are and how they differ from other forms of dementia?

Primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia affect the brain’s functions, specifically memory and judgment. These conditions damage the nerves and connections in the brain, particularly in the frontal and temporal lobes. Depending on the type of dementia, it can impact different areas of the brain. For example, primary progressive aphasia primarily affects language skills, while frontotemporal dementia affects behavior and personality. People with these conditions may experience difficulty communicating, changes in personality and behavior, and challenges with cognition and memory.

You mentioned that people with these conditions don’t usually experience memory problems in the beginning. Are there any early warning signs or red flags that people can look out for?

It’s common for some individuals to appear more apathetic or withdrawn, leading family and friends to suspect they may be depressed. Changes in personality can also be misinterpreted as other issues. Sometimes, individuals themselves may not recognize the changes, attributing them to normal aging. However, these could be early signs of dementia.

What is the diagnosis process?

The diagnosis process for dementia involves various assessments and tests. There isn’t a single test for diagnosing dementia. Doctors typically rely on a combination of medical history, physical exams, neurological exams, and cognitive tests. Imaging tests like MRI can help identify brain changes associated with dementia, but the diagnosis is usually based on a comprehensive evaluation of symptoms and test results by a healthcare professional.

A significant percentage of cases are genetic. Could you talk about the importance of individuals knowing their family history and being diligent about their brain health?

It’s important to be aware of your family history, especially regarding conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol issues, and dementia. Knowing your family history can help you prepare for potential health challenges. While there’s currently no cure for frontotemporal dementia, understanding your family’s health background can help you recognize early symptoms and seek appropriate care.

Living with dementia presents various challenges, including personality changes and cognitive impairment. Family support is crucial, as they can help navigate therapies like speech and occupational therapy to stimulate cognitive function. Planning for the future, such as arranging legal documents like wills and powers of attorney, is also important. Frontotemporal dementia often affects individuals in the 40 to 60-year-old range, so it’s wise to prepare for potential challenges, even as you age.

Since there is no cure for these conditions, what are some of the challenges people may face in their day-to-day lives, and are there any tips or tools for them to navigate those challenges?

It’s crucial for caregivers to have their own support system, as caring for someone with dementia can be overwhelming. Seeking therapy or

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