Newswise — Many patients showing signs of dementia are quickly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when they might actually suffer from frontotemporal dementia, delaying the appropriate treatment for them.

“Some people cannot tell frontotemporal dementia from Alzheimer’s disease,” said Joseph Masdeu, M.D., director of the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Hospital. “However, these diseases have different symptoms and treatments. And with advances in neuroimaging, we can see a clear difference in how frontotemporal dementia manifests in the brain.”

In Alzheimer’s disease, the accumulation of the protein beta amyloid can induce the excess production of an abnormal form of the important brain protein, tau. In frontotemporal dementia, beta amyloid is not present and a different abnormal form of tau is detected. Houston Methodist Hospital is the only center in Houston offering tau imaging to aid in the diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia.

“A misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s can prevent a person with frontotemporal dementia from participating in future trials for this group of disorders” Masdeu said. “And since potential Alzheimer’s treatments would not help a patient with frontotemporal dementia, misdiagnosed patients participating in Alzheimer’s clinical trials can skew that data and prevent the advancement of those treatments.”

Masdeu adds that a good treatment is not yet available for frontotemporal dementia, but that the symptoms can be treated. While memory loss is the primary symptom of Alzheimer’s, patients with frontotemporal dementia begin to be less concerned or organized in their daily activities, say or do inappropriate things that they usually would not, or have difficulty finding the right words.

Frontotemporal dementia is estimated to affect more than 50,000 people in their 50s to 70s annually, whereas Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million people between the ages of 60 and 90 each year.

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