Frontotemporal dementia almost makes Alzheimer’s disease look like a picnic.
The New York Times Sunday did a Page One story on this particular form of dementia, which it described as a “little-known, poorly understood and frequently misdiagnosed group of brain diseases that eat away at personality and language.”
“Frontotemporal dementia, also called frontotemporal degeneration or Pick’s disease, refers to a group of diseases that destroy nerve centers in the frontal and temporal lobes — the home of decision-making, emotion, judgment, behavior and language,” The Times wrote. “Some forms of the disease also cause movement disorders.”
One of the key points of the story is that frontotemporal dementia is very different than Alzheimer’s. MRIs done of patients’ brains who have it show that their frontal and temporal lobes have gotten dramatically smaller, according to The Times.
Frontotemporal dementia is usually diagnosed in people younger than the typical patient with Alzheimer’s. It also moves quicker than Alzheimer’s, in terms of its impact. And its symptoms are much different than Alzheimer’s.
“Unlike Alzheimer’s, (it) does not attack memory at first but begins with silence, apathy or bizarre personality changes,” The Times wrote.
There are eight kinds of frontotemporal degeneration, according to the newspaper, categorized by symptom, such as impact on movement and the ability to speak.
According to The Times, an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Americans have frontotemporal dementia.
The headline of The Times’ story was “When Illness Makes A Spouse A Stranger,” and the story was framed around Michael French and his wife Ruth. Michael underwent a series of dramatic personality changes, including not talking to his wife, over several years until the cause of his transformation was diagnosed in 2007: frontotemporal dementia.
Michael had been an engineer, a loving husband, a volunteer, a kind man.
“Now he can no longer speak, read, write or walk,” The Times wrote.
It finally came to a point where Ruth could no longer care for Michael at home. He is in a nursing home now, where Ruth often visits him.
It is a well-written story article with many details about the science of this disease, and how families try to cope when a loved one has it. Give it a read.