MORE ABOUT BECKY’S CONDITION
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a rare debilitating brain disease, says Dr Alison Richardson, a Cape Town neurologist.
It affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, changing a person’s language patterns, behaviour and personality. Memory loss is common.
Becky’s age is extremely unusual for the condition, Richardson says. The average age for FTD diagnosis is about 64. The disease is considered hereditary and in 40 to 50% of cases the patient has an affected family member. In a further 25% of cases it’s passed down from a parent.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Patients become disinhibited and develop Witzelsucht Syndrome, which causes them to have a silly sense of humour and say inappropriate things, often of a sexual nature.
At the other end of the spectrum they can become apathetic, not leaving their room or talking to anyone. They may also neglect personal hygiene. A common symptom is orality, the compulsion to put things in their mouth. “Utilisation” is another habit: patients tend to manipulate any object they find, such as picking up a pen and sticking it in their ear, Richardson explains.
HOW IS FTD TESTED?
The patient undergoes intensive neuropsychological testing to check for impairment of frontal and temporal lobe function. An MRI or brain scan also tests for shrinkage of the brain.
CAN IT BE TREATED OR PREVENTED?
Only symptoms can be treated, for example by putting a patient on antidepressants and sleep medication, as they often develop insomnia. If you’re genetically predisposed to the disease the best way to prevent or stall FTD is to have a healthy lifestyle, maintain a low body mass index and avoid lifestyle diseases such as hypertension or diabetes. Puzzles and reading can also help to keep the brain sharp.