Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) can be challenging to identify and is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric problem or as Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, just like many neurodegenerative disorders, conclusive diagnosis can only truly be made during an autopsy.

While the majority of people living with dementia are over the age of 65, frontotemporal dementia tends to occur between the ages of 40 and 45, and the disorders that stem from this condition have a distinct effect on an individuals behaviour, personality, and language.

A recent study out of Sweden has shown that people living with Frontotemporal dementia have a significantly elevated risk of committing criminal or socially inappropriate behaviour, and HelloCare sat down with Dr. Madeleine Liljegren from Sweden’s Lund University to find out more about why this is happening and whether or not anything positive can come out of these findings.

“People with FTD suffer from damage to the frontal and temporal lobes. Our personality, our ability to control impulses, our ability to feel empathy for others, and theory of mind – is located in the frontal area of the brain,” said Dr. Liljegren

“When this region is affected by a neurodegenerative disorder, the patient can start behaving in a very odd way and sometimes commit crimes. We have seen that criminal behaviour can be the first sign of FTD and it often takes a long time from symptom onset to diagnosis for these patients.”

As part of the research, Dr. Liljegren examined the pathologies of 220 deceased people who had been identified with either frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and compared their results to their criminal and behavioural histories.

The study was comprised of 119 cases of frontotemporal dementia and 101 cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

Instances of criminal behaviour were found in 65 of the 220 test subjects, the majority of which (50) were living with FTD, and 89% of the criminally active test subjects with FTD had committed more than one criminal act.

“We did expect that the prevalence of criminal behaviour would be higher in FTD patients (which has been shown before) than in AD patients, but finding that non-tau proteins (mostly TDP-43) increased the odds for criminal behaviour among FTD patients was indeed interesting to see. Protein pathology in relation to criminal behaviour has, to our knowledge, never been examined before,” said Dr. Liljegren.

The differing ratio of socially inappropriate behavioural instances was also significant, with 89 members of the FTD group reporting indiscretions, as opposed to 57 members of the AD group.

While Dr. Liljegren was not overly surprised by the results of the study, she did share some thoughts on how she believed this research could be used to positively affect society.

“I hope that the judicial and health care systems will be more vigilant when it comes to middle-aged or even younger people exhibiting criminal or socially inappropriate behaviours for the first time since it can be a symptom of a neurodegenerative disorder,” said Dr. Liljegren

If these patients could get help early in the disease it would be beneficial for the patient, the patient’s family, and society in general.”

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