Eyes May Predict Frontotemporal Dementia

November 20, 2017

Is it possible that the eyes may hold warning signs that can alert doctors to the development of frontotemporal dementia?  A new study suggests that this may just be the case.

What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia (sometimes known as FTD or FTLD) refers to a number of related dementia-causing disorders that focus on the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. It’s estimated that 10-15% of all dementia cases (and 20-50% of dementia cases in people younger than 65) are probably caused by FTD.

Memory loss in FTD is usually less severe than in Alzheimer’s; however, there are more pronounced issues involving personality changes, behavioral changes, and motor/muscular skill challenges.

The Study

The Journal of Experimental Medicine has published a new study involving frontotemporal dementia from researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Gladstone Industries, and the University of California, San Francisco. Entitled “Retinal neurodegeneration and impaired Ran-mediated nuclear import of TDP-43 in progranulin-deficient FTLD,” the study examined the retinas of people who developed FTD. By studying their history via medical records, the scientists learned that in people who carry the genetic mutation which is associated with FTD, the retina would start to shrink before any symptoms of the disease itself appeared.

The retina is connected to the brain by way of the optic nerve. Since FTD involves the shrinking of the frontal and temporal lobes, it makes sense that the retina might also change as these parts of the brain began developing the effects of the disease.

Why is it important?

As is the case with most diseases, early identification is crucial to improving outcomes in FTD. There is no cure for FTD, and treatment typically involves managing the symptoms. Therefore, being aware that FTD may be developing can allow doctors and families to work together to prepare for potential issues before they develop and to be on the lookout for symptoms as they appear so that early treatment can be begun.

While the results of this study will need to be verified by other studies, it does provide valuable information that will help in future years.


Alzheimer’s Association

Jason Sager

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