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Symptoms - Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia usually causes changes in behaviour or language problems at first.

These happen gradually and get worse over time.

Eventually, most people will experience problems in both of these areas. Some people also develop physical problems with their mental abilities.

Behaviour and personality changes

Many people with frontotemporal dementia develop a lot of unusual behaviours they're not aware of.

These can include:

  • being insensitive or rude
  • acting impulsively or rashly
  • loss of inhibitions
  • seeming subdued
  • losing interest in people and things
  • losing drive and motivation
  • inability to empathise with others, seeming cold and selfish
  • repetitive behaviours, such as humming, hand-rubbing and foot-tapping
  • routines such as walking exactly the same route repetitively
  • a change in food preferences, such as suddenly liking sweet foods, and poor table manners
  • compulsive eating, alcohol drinking or smoking
  • neglecting personal hygiene

People with frontotemporal dementia may become socially isolated and withdrawn.

Language problems

Some people experience problems with speech and language, including:

  • using words incorrectly – for example, calling a sheep a dog
  • loss of vocabulary
  • repeating a limited number of phrases
  • forgetting the meaning of common words
  • slow, hesitant speech
  • difficulty making the right sounds to say words
  • getting words in the wrong order
  • automatically repeating things other people have said

Some people gradually lose the ability to speak. They can eventually become completely mute.

Problems with mental abilities

Problems with thinking do not tend to happen in the early stages. But these often develop as the condition progresses.

They can include:

  • difficulty working things out and needing to be told what to do
  • poor planning, judgement and organisation
  • becoming easily distracted
  • thinking in a rigid and inflexible way
  • losing the ability to understand abstract ideas
  • difficulty recognising familiar people or objects
  • memory difficulties, but this is not common early on

Physical problems

In the later stages of the condition, some people develop physical problems and difficulties with movement.

These can include:

  • slow, stiff movements, the same as Parkinson's disease
  • difficulty swallowing
  • loss of bladder control
  • loss of bowel control

Some people have frontotemporal dementia with other neurological (nerve and brain) problems.

These can include:

  • motor neurone disease – causes increasing weakness, usually with muscle wasting
  • corticobasal degeneration – causes problems controlling limbs, loss of balance and co-ordination, and slowness
  • progressive supranuclear palsy – causes problems with balance, movement, eye movements and swallowing

When to see your GP

Non-urgent advice: Talk to your GP if:

  • you think you have early symptoms of dementia

Your GP can do some simple checks to try to find out the cause of your symptoms. They may refer you to a specialist for further tests.

It's usually helpful to have someone at the consultation who knows you well. They can give the specialist another perspective on your symptoms.

If you're worried about someone else, encourage them to see their GP. You could suggest that you go with them.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 26 August 2021
Next review due: 26 August 2024