Frontotemporal Dementia Caregiver Support Center

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What is Dementia - Diagnosis

The information on this page is for reference and educational purposes. There is no substitute for seeing a doctor.
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Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center describes that FTD symptoms are often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric problem or as Alzheimer's. However, a trained and experienced health care professional can look for features that rule out other diagnoses as well as those that pinpoint FTD. Dr. Tiffany Chow spoke at the 5th International Conference on Frontotemporal Dementia said currently there is no lab test better than a complete patient history and examination of the patient. Diagnosis generally involves:

  • a careful medical history and examination of behavioral changes

    Patients lack the ability to recognize changes that have occurred or that their current behavior is problematic. Information from family members and others close to the patient is crucial. (We took my brother to UCLA, and Dr. Mendez asks him, "Why are you here?" My brother replies back and says, " Because my family thinks there is something wrong with me." Dr. Mendez asks, "What do you think?" My brother replies back, "There's nothing wrong with me, I am healthy as I can be!")

  • neuropsychological examination, which helps assess language, memory, executive functioning, visual-spatial skills
  • neuroimaging to determine where and how extensively brain regions have atrophied.

The National Institutes of Health describes that doctors employ a number of strategies to diagnose dementia. It is important that they rule out any treatable conditions, such as depression, normal pressure hydrocephalus, or vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause similar symptoms.

Early, accurate diagnosis of dementia is important for patients and their families because it allows early treatment of symptoms. For people with AD or other progressive dementias, early diagnosis may allow them to plan for the future while they can still help to make decisions. These people also may benefit from drug treatment.

The "gold standard" for diagnosing dementia, autopsy, does not help the patient or caregivers. Therefore, doctors have devised a number of techniques to help identify dementia with reasonable accuracy while the patient is still alive.

At the 5th International Conference on FTD, Dr. Sandra Weintraub from Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine gave a lecture called, "The FTD Trajectory: Stages, Behaviors, and Functional Decline." Dr. Weintraub provided in her Caregiver Track this comment, "The field is currently flooded with a confusing array of labels for different forms of FTD that are still being debated among scientists and clinicians. To simplify this confusion, FTD can be divided into two categories bases on visible symptoms, namely, a 'comportment'-based dementia, also known as 'behavioral variant'-FTD (bv-FTD), and a language-based dementia, known as Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA)." +11/19/06


Frontotemporal Dementia

Behavioral variant (bv-FTD)

Language variant
Consists of initially subtle and subsequently more dramatic changes in one's core personality, judgment, emotional responses, and "executive" functions. Some individuals experience and exaggeration of their old personality traits while others show a complete change in personality. PPA consists of the slow deterioration of the ability to use language, or "aphasia." Initially, speech is hesitant and the affected individual has difficulty finding common words in conversation. Over time, however, other aspects of language use, including understanding what others are saying, reading and writing, also become abnormal.
As the neurodegeneration spreads into other brain regions over time, the symptoms in both PPA and bv-FTD worsen and other deficits appear, including a decline in retentive memory and motor abnormalities in some. Thus individuals with PPA begin to show symptoms of bv-FTD and individuals with bv-FTD develop aphasia. In the end stages of PPA and bv-FTD, there is severe and incapacitating disease, and life expectancy is shortened. However, it is the early stages that symptom differences among patients are greatest and require highly specialized approaches for treating the affected person, for educating caregivers and health care workers, and for maximizing the individual's functional capacity to the extent possible.
Information collected from the 5th International Conference on FTD. Presented by Dr. Sandra Weintraub from Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.



Best FTD Resources

What If It's Not Alzheimer's
© 2003 by Lisa Radin and Gary Radin

No information was found in this book about this topic.

Association of Frontotemporal Dementia (Website)

Pick's Disease Support Group (Website)

No information was found on this website about this topic.

University of California, San Francisco (Website)
Family Caregiver Alliance (Website)

No information was found on this website about this topic.

National Institutes of Health (Website)


Other Internet Articles

The National Institute on Aging provides this brochure called "Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People." The first section is okay about selecting a doctor, but I think we are really limited by which doctor we can see. The rest of the brochure has a lot of good useful information.

To access the PDF file

+11/06/06 (Don B.)

The University of Penn. has this PDF file which is a chapter that was published in M. J. Goolsby (Ed). Nurse Practitioner Secrets.

General Diagnosis of AD and FTD

From the University of Southern California about dementia.

From the Northern California Institute for Research and Education is able to distinguish Alzheimer from Frontotemporal Dementia.

Dr. Rodney A. Short is from the Behavioral Neurology Fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

Core Clinical Diagnostic Features for FTLD

In the Middle East Journal of Family Medicine, Dr. David Clark and Dr. Jeffery Cummings from the UCLA wrote an article called "The Diagnosis and Management of Dementia.

The Mayo Clinic offers an article called "Essentials of the Proper Diagnoses of Mild Cognitive Impairment, Dementia and Major Subtypes of Dementia"

Dr. Carol Manning of the Department of Neurology at the University of Virginia Health System wrote this article "Beyond Memory: Neuropsychological features in differential diagnosis of dementia"

Beyond Memory: Neuropsychological features...

The Alzheimer's Association provides this website about what happens in the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease. It is an interactive tour of the brain.

+11/06/06 (Don B.)

The Department of Psychology at the Illinois State University provides this review called "Review of Differential Diagnoses in cases of Dementia"


The website offers this web page called "Early Onset Dementia." It is an interesting article. Not once you they talk about FTD but they talk about younger people with dementia issues.


The website published this article called, "Probing a Mind for a Cure"


The Callier Library a satellite facility of The University of Texas provided this article.

"Screening for Frontotemporal Dementias and Alzheimer's Disease with the Philadelphia Brief Assessment of Cognition: A Preliminary Analysis"

+11/09/07 (Vida) [D1000]

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