Dementia: Anhedonia is an early symptom of frontotemporal dementia – what is it?

Dementia: Anhedonia is an early symptom of frontotemporal dementia – what is it?

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Dementia is a syndrome which is associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning, of which there are many different causes. The NHS notes that if you’re becoming increasingly forgetful, particularly if you’re over the age of 65, it’s a good idea to talk to a GP. However, forgetfulness is not the only indicator.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a common cause of dementia, is a group of disorders that occur when nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are lost.

This causes the lobes to shrink. FTD can affect behaviour, personality, language, and movement.

According to experts, a loss of pleasure may also be an early sign of FTD.

In a study published in Science Direct, profound loss of pleasure related to dementia was investigated.

“Loss of the ability to experience pleasure – or anhedonia – has been revealed as a key feature in frontotemporal dementia, in contrast to Alzheimer’s disease,” noted the study.

It added: “The findings from brain scans, believed to be a first, show grey matter deterioration in the so-called pleasure system of the brain.

“These regions were distinct from those implicated in depression or apathy, suggesting a possible treatment target for the early-onset dementia that affects people from 40-65 years.”

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The study found that people with early-onset dementia are often mistaken for having depression and now research has discovered the cause.

Experiencing a profound loss of ability to experience pleasure such as joy from a delicious meal or beautiful sunset could be related to degeneration of “hedonic hotspots” in the brain where pleasure mechanisms are concentrated.

The researchers believe it is the first study to demonstrate profound anhedonia, the clinical definition for a loss of ability to experience pleasure in people with FTD.

Senior study author, Professor Muireann Irish from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre and School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science, said despite increasing evidence of motivational disturbances, no study had previously explored the capacity to experience pleasure in people with FTD.

“Much of human experience is motivated by the drive to experience pleasure but we often take this capacity for granted,” he said.

“But consider what it might be like to lose the capacity to enjoy the simple pleasures of life — this has stark implications for the wellbeing of people affected by these neurodegenerative disorders.

“Our findings also reflect the workings of a complex network of regions in the brain, signalling potential treatments.

“Future studies will be essential to address the impact of anhedonia on everyday activities, and to inform the development of targeted interventions to improve quality of life in patients and their families.”

Other signs of FTD include:

  • Behaviour and/or dramatic personality changes, such as swearing, stealing, increased interest in sex, or a deterioration in personal hygiene habits
  • Socially inappropriate, impulsive, or repetitive behaviours
  • Impaired judgment
  • Apathy
  • Lack of empathy
  • Decreased self-awareness.

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