If FTD is diagnosed early in the course of the disease, doctors can prescribe medications and help families prepare and cope with symptoms. The condition may last from three to 17 years before death, with an average duration of eight years after diagnosis.
Therapy is designed to relieve the symptoms or behaviors caused by frontotemporal dementia, but there is no treatment to stop or reverse the underlying brain deterioration. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may offer some relief from apathy and depression and help reduce food cravings, loss of impulse control and compulsive activity.
Doctors may prescribe anti-psychotics, medications that can alleviate extremely unrealistic or disorganized thinking such as hallucinations, delusions and aggression. Older anti-psychotic medications that block dopanmine may be dangerous for FTD patients because some of them have Parkinson's disease, which causes a loss of dopamine, a chemical messenger that transmits signals within the brain.
Cholinesterase inhibitors — the class of drugs currently used to treat memory symptoms in Alzheimer's — do not help FTD patients. These drugs temporarily increase supplies of the messenger chemical acetylcholine to failing nerves, but FTD does not affect nerves in the acetylcholine communication system.
Some patients with FTD develop Lou Gherig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Doctors don't yet fully understand the connection between the two diseases but are studying the trend.
Many FTD patients remain at home and others require nursing home care. Being a caregiver of an FTD patient can be physically and emotionally exhausting. If you are a caregiver, you should seek as much help as possible to carry out your day-to-day tasks. The UCSF Memory and Aging Center sponsors a Frontotemporal Dementia Support Group that meets monthly to provide support and education to families of FTD patients and referrals for community resources.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.