Dementia is a symptom, not a diagnosis. With that said, I’ll remind you that Alzheimer’s is dementia but dementia is not always Alzheimer’s. When giving my talks throughout New England, I’m often asked by attendees if they can expect to develop dementia because one of their relatives received the diagnosis. I’m afraid I don’t have that answer, but I can say that the type of dementia could be an indicator.

If the relative's dementia was caused by head trauma or the abuse of alcohol, and the person asking the question never had such life experiences himself, then I would confidently share that he didn’t have much to worry about. There’s another form of dementia, frontotemporal dementia —recently featured on a segment of “60 Minutes" — that could develop if there is a history of dementia in your family, and that’s my focus today.

According to the folks at the Mayo Clinic, FTD affects the lobes of the brain that that bear on personality, behavior and language. Specifically, in FTD, these parts or lobes of the brain atrophy or shrink. The result is that individuals may display changes in personality, become socially inappropriate, emotionally indifferent, and perhaps lose the ability to use language. Personally, I think one of the most unfortunate characteristics of frontotemporal dementi is that it can occur in individuals as young as 40.

No one individual with dementia is going display all the possible signs and symptoms of that particular type of dementia. Here are some of the most common symptoms for FTD:

-Inappropriate actions

-Loss of empathy and other interpersonal skills

-Lack of judgment and inhibition

-Apathy

-Repetitive compulsive behavior

-A decline in personal hygiene

-Overeating

-Consumption of inedible objects

I recommend you review this list a few times and give it some serious thought. Consider the consequences of your loved one's compromised hygiene or the dangers of them ingesting things they shouldn’t consume, including medications.

It’s important that you also know that in rarer types of FTD, problems with movement are presented. For example, the person may display tremors, rigidity, muscle spasms, poor coordination, difficulty swallowing and muscle weakness. According to the Mayo Clinic, these movement disorders are similar to those with Parkinson’s disease or ALS.

At this point in time, it’s not known what causes the affected lobes of the brain to shrink, and more than half of the individuals who develop FTD have no family history of dementia.

I’m not a diagnostician nor do I expect you to be one. I do believe that the better informed you are, the better you will be as a caregiver. When you start to notice symptoms or behaviors, don’t be hesitant to take the initiative and see the appropriate physician(s).

Be proactive and once you learn what the issues are. Become a student of that affliction and of the resources that are available to help you navigate as a caregiver. As most of you know, the information that’s available out there on almost everything is staggering, from a wide variety of active dementia related studies, online courses, reference websites like ALZ.org & MayoClinic.org, local support groups and more. They are all there to help you and your loved one. “Dr. Goggle” can be a big help but you don’t want to depend on her too much.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcargivers.org. Remember, Join the Journey.

Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer’s care specialist. His website is at www.careforcaregivers.org.

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