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Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a group of degenerative diseases that gradually damage or shrink the brain’s frontal and anterior temporal lobes, located in the front of the brain. These lobes are the center of many important brain functions, including language skills and the abilities to focus attention, make plans and decisions, and control impulses. FTDs include frontotemporal lobar degeneration, Pick's disease, progressive aphasia and semantic dementia.

Symptoms often involve personality or mood changes, compulsive or repetitive behaviors, and lack of emotion, inhibition or social tact.

FTD affects an estimated 250,000 Americans. The average duration of the disease is about eight years. In the past, the disease was confused with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia, but frontotemporal dementia appears earlier in life than Alzheimer's disease. Researchers now believe FTD is the second leading cause of dementia in middle age. Most patients are diagnosed during their 50s and 60s, with men and women equally affected.

About 40 percent of patients have a clear family history. The remaining 60 percent of cases occur randomly. If a parent has frontotemporal dementia, one in two of the children are likely to develop the disease. In some cases where the disorder appears to be inherited, there is an apparent change or mutation in a gene on chromosome 3, 9 or 17. Other genes may be involved as well. The cause of the illness, however, is unknown.

Our Approach to Frontotemporal Dementia

UCSF is home to one of the few centers in the country that specialize in research and diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia. We offer extensive assessments to correctly diagnose FTD, which may be mistaken for other conditions, as well as medications to minimize symptoms. Because caring for a loved one with FTD can be very challenging, we hold a monthly support group to provide information and comfort for families and caregivers. We also work to connect families with outside support services.

Awards & recognition

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    Among the top hospitals in the nation

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    Best in California and No. 2 in the nation for neurology & neurosurgery

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.