Caring for someone with frontotemporal dementia vs. Alzheimer

Caring for someone with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) can be a daunting task, especially when no distinction is made between this and other types of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In the latter, challenges usually revolve around memory problems. Lack of memory for events or people can make the patient anxious about daily life. Nonetheless, Alzheimer's disease patients tend to observe socially acceptable behavior, though memory difficulties can produce anxiety and agitation. Both person people with FTD and with AD may appear apathetic and uninterested in former enjoyable activities but that tends to be the result of overwhelming difficulty of the task as opposed to a true lack of interest.

On the other hand, FTD patients often develop motor problems early in their illness, unlike their AD counterparts. With progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA) and FTD, manifestations of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) or corticobasal degeneration (CBD) can occur so falls, rigidity and swallowing problems are frequent. By the same token, in certain FTD patients, an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) picture with weakness, dysarthria and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) can be extremely disabling.


Frontotemporal dementia


Alzheimer’s disease


·         Increasingly inappropriate actions.

·         Loss of empathy and other interpersonal skills.

·         Lack of judgment and inhibition.

·         Apathy.

·         Repetitive compulsive behavior.

·         A decline in personal care.

·         Changes in eating habits, in particular overeating.

·         Lack of awareness of thinking or behavioral changes.

·         Tremor.

·         Rigidity.

·         Muscle spasms.

·         Poor coordination.

·         Difficulty swallowing.

·         Muscle weakness.


·         Repeating statements and questions over and over.

·         Forgetting conversations, appointments or events.    

·         Routinely misplacing possessions, often leaving them in illogical places.    

·         Eventually forgetting the names of family members and daily objects.

·         Disorientation and misinterpreting spatial relationships.

·         Trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations.

·         Difficulty concentrating and thinking.

·         Forgetting how to perform basic tasks such as dressing and bathing.

·         Depression.

·         Anxiety.

·         Social withdrawal.

·         Mood swings.

·         Distrust in others.

·         Irritability and aggressiveness.

·         Changes in sleeping habits.

·         Wandering.

·         Loss of inhibitions.

·         Delusions.


The average time between diagnosis and is 3.5-6 years, though many individual factors can impact disease duration. For instance, people who develop ALS progress more quickly.


Patients are usually affected later in life and tend to live longer with a slower progression of symptoms.


There are currently no approved medications for any FTD-related condition. AD drugs are not only not helpful but can worsen symptoms


Anticholinesterase medications like Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne can help with the symptoms.


Look for groups that support caregivers of frontotemporal dementia, Pick's disease, semantic dementia, progressive nonfluent aphasia or primary progressive aphasia.


FTD support groups are harder to find, so Alzheimer’s support groups should be generous enough to welcome FTD caregivers. Even though they may not be targeted to the exact same things, it can still be a great help to talk with people going through a similar situation.


Related: Is your aging parent a ‘gentleman thief’? He may have dementia