A 40-year-old teacher has become one of the youngest people to die from dementia, having been diagnosed with the disease just five years ago.
Gareth Wilmot, from south Yorkshire, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) at the age of just 35.
According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, FTD is a rare form of dementia thought to account for less than 5% of all dementia cases.
It usually affects people between the ages of 45 and 64, making Wilmot’s diagnosis and death particularly unusual.
What Is It?
Originally called Pick’s disease after the scientist who first observed the symptoms, FTD is caused by damage to the cells in the front and sides of the brain (frontal and temporal lobes).
“Frontotemporal dementia is caused by clumps of abnormal protein forming inside brain cells. These are thought to damage the cells and stop them working properly,” the NHS website explains.
“The proteins mainly build up in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain at the front and sides. These are important for controlling language, behaviour, and the ability to plan and organise.”
Scientists are yet to fully understand why this damage to brain cells occurs, but they have documented a genetic link.
Around one in every three people with FTD has a family history of the condition.
Much like other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss is one symptom of FTD, although this usually only occurs in the later stages of the disease.
According to the NHS, early symptoms include personality and behaviour changes (such as acting inappropriately or impulsively), language problems (such as speaking slowly) and problems with mental abilities (such as getting distracted easily and struggling with planning).
Those diagnosed may also encounter physical problems, such as slow or stiff movements, loss of bladder or bowel control and difficulty swallowing.
Symptoms are likely to get progressively worse over time.
Alzheimer’s Research UK says the speed of change can vary widely, but some people live with the condition for more than 15 years.
Diagnosis And Treatment
Anyone worried about symptoms of dementia should contact their GP, who will arrange for a series of tests.
You may be given a blood test to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, before seeing a dementia specialist.
You or a loved one may be required to document your behavioural changes for a specialist to analyse. You may also undergo brain scans, to allow the doctor to identify any changes that have occurred in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.
Although there is no cure for FTD or any treatment specific to the disease, you may be prescribed treatment to manage the symptoms.
Some doctors will recommend patients attend cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) in order to manage their behavioural changes while others may be prescribed antidepressants.
As symptoms can vary from person to person, your doctor will discuss suitable treatment options with you.