Frontotemporal Dementia: A New Issue Facing The Retired Community

Tim Watt  |  June 20, 2013

When it comes to cognitive issues facing the retired population, much attention is paid to Alzheimer's disease. And while the condition is undoubtedly a serious problem - an estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's - the medical community says a different issue, known as frontotemporal dementia, may be the most significant concern.

When it comes to cognitive issues facing the retired population, much attention is paid to Alzheimer's disease. And while the condition is undoubtedly a serious problem - an estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's - the medical community says a different issue, known as frontotemporal dementia, may be the most significant concern. The illness tends to appear in younger boomers, and according to NBC Nightly News, there is a growing effort to bring FTD to the forefront of public consciousness.

More than memory
There are considerable differences between FTD and Alzheimer's disease, but one of the most significant is how it first presents symptoms. Rather than changes such as forgetfulness or disorientation, FTD often causes shifts in behavior that can range from differences in personality and emotions to acting impulsively, notes the Mayo Clinic. This can often be a challenge for families who may not understand why their loved ones are acting differently.

Such was the case for Barbara Whitmarsh, 62, who first started showing symptoms several years ago. Her husband noticed she had become less empathetic and her personality changed. Eventually she saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with FTD. Whitmarsh, a resident at a Sunrise Senior Living community, is indicative of a growing concern.

"It's a tragic problem because often the first manifestations of the disease are bad judgments, disruption of family infrastructure happens," Dr. Bruce Miller, of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, told NBC. "We've begun to realize that frontotemporal dementia is actually more common than Alzheimer's disease in people with degenerative disorder under 60."

Need for more awareness
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, FTD may be responsible for approximately 25 percent of pre-senile dementia, yet not many people are aware of the condition. Experts say that highlighting FTD will not only help families recognize the symptoms, but it could also increase the number of studies focused on the condition, which might yield significant findings for other disease such as ALS and Huntington's. 

Care options abound
With the growing prevalence of FTD, Alzheimer's and other cognitive issues, a greater emphasis has been placed on providing older adults with memory care services, something which is certainly the case at Sunrise Senior Living. The retirement community's Reminiscence Program provides dementia assisted living and personalized experiences offering multi-sensory experiences, daily exercise and outings as well as social interaction, all of which can help manage symptoms of Alzheimer's and other conditions. 

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