Cognitive and behavioural characterization of individuals genetically at risk for frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is the second most common form of dementia affecting individuals under the age of 65. Characterized by the gradual wasting away of the brain’s frontal and anterior temporal lobes, FTD progressively affects mental function, personality and behaviour, while leaving memory largely intact. Over time, they lose the ability to organize and plan, become emotionally blunted and socially inappropriate, lose insight on the impact of their behaviour, and experience difficulty with speech and language. Currently, there is no cure for FTD and treatment methods are limited. Vulnerability to some forms of FTD has been linked to a specific gene mutation that runs in families. While the symptoms of FTD are well documented, few studies have looked at the characteristics of individuals who carry the mutation but do not yet show obvious FTD symptoms. However, research shows that even when they do not exhibit obvious symptoms of FTD, individuals who carry the gene mutation perform significantly worse on tests that measure frontal lobe functioning than family members who do not carry the mutated gene. Using measures such as cognitive testing, behavioural questionnaires and brain imaging, Amanda LaMarre is seeking to establish clinical markers of FTD in genetically at risk individuals in order to identify and distinguish the earliest symptoms. She hopes that by gaining a better understanding of the development and onset of FTD, her research will provide a base for future research aimed at preventing or slowing the progression of the disease.