'Repetitive behaviours’ could signal dementia – what to look for in your partner

Dementia describes a cluster of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. The part on the region of the brain affected determines the nature and course of the symptoms. This is why memory loss – contrary to popular opinion – is not always the first warning sign.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which affects the front and sides of the brain (the frontal and temporal lobes), is a case in point.

These areas are responsible for behaviour, personality and/or difficulty with producing or comprehending language

The most common signs of FTD are those that relate to the behavioural variant.

According to a study published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry, the presence of repetitive behaviours is one of the “core criteria” for behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD).

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The study identified the most common repetitive behaviours among 59 of 93 patients with bvFTD within three years from the onset of symptoms.

Repeating particular words or catch phrases, pacing, tapping or motor stereotypes (repetitive movements or sounds), hoarding, and frequent unnecessary trips to the bathroom were common among these patients with bvFTD.

Other behavioural symptoms include:

  • Loss of empathy and other interpersonal skills, such as having sensitivity to another’s feelings
  • Lack of judgment
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Lack of interest (apathy), which can be mistaken for depression
  • Repetitive compulsive behaviour, such as tapping, clapping or smacking lips
  • A decline in personal hygiene
  • Changes in eating habits, usually overeating or developing a preference for sweets and carbohydrates
  • Eating inedible objects
  • Compulsively wanting to put things in the mouth.
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How to respond

According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia.

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“If you’re worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and perhaps suggest you go with them,” explains the health body.

As the NHS explains, the GP can do some simple checks to try to find out the cause of your symptoms, and may refer you to a specialist for further tests.

“It’s usually very helpful to have someone at the consultation who knows you well and can give the specialist another perspective on your symptoms,” it adds.

Can I reduce my risk?

Unfortunately, one in every two or three people with the behavioural variant FTD could have a family history, says Alzheimer’s Research UK.

“Scientists have found a number of faulty genes that can cause inherited forms of FTD, including tau, progranulin and C9ORF72,” explains the charity.

In cases of FTD where there is no family history, the risk factors are not yet fully understood and research is underway to find out more.

Research has suggested those who carry the genetic mutation are not entirely powerless, however.

A study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that lifestyle factors may confer some protection.

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The study revealed that genetic mutation carriers who had more active lifestyles were found to have more than 55 percent slower decline per year.

The findings, which we were based on cognitive and memory tests, suggest that living an active lifestyle is associated with less functional decline.

The study authors acknowledge that although their research shows correlation, it does not prove that lifestyle changes can alter the course of FTD.



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