When most people think about the first signs of dementia, memory loss is often top of mind. While it's true that trouble with short term memory is a hallmark of Alzheimer's--the most common form of dementia--other categories of chronic cognitive impairment (e.g. Lewy Body dementia, vascular demetia, etc.) have different symptoms.
In fact, a new study from the University of California, San Francisco, Department of Neurology found an intriguing link between delinquent behavior and certain types of dementia.
It’s no secret that out-of-character behavior is one of the primary indicators of most forms of dementia. But a recent analysis of nearly 2,400 dementia patients revealed that criminal acts such as theft, trespassing, public urination and sexual advances were more common among individuals who were in the initial stages of the behavioral variant form of frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
People with FTD tend to experience the first symptoms of their condition earlier than those with Alzheimer’s. In fact, about 60 percent of people with FTD are between the ages of 45 and 64, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), making it about as prevalent as Alzheimer’s among people under 65.
What is FTD?
As its name suggests, FTD is a degenerative disease that affects the frontal and temporal lobes of thebrain.
The frontal lobes govern the brain’s executive functioning capabilities—planning, multitasking, recognizing mistakes and prioritizing tasks. It also acts as a kind of filter, helping us distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a given situation. People with damage to their frontal lobes may experience issues with things like managing finances or loudly laughing during a solemn event.
The temporal lobes bear much of the responsibility for governing emotions and language processing, as well as connecting certain memories with certain senses (e.g. the song that was playing during your first kiss). People with damage to their temporal lobes can have trouble recognizing dangerous situations, or making sense of and responding appropriately to emotional situations.
“Criminal” acts caused by FTD
Understanding that FTD can cause dramatic behavioral changes in adults is key to the early detection of the disease, not to mention that appropriate handling of “criminal” acts committed by those with FTD.
“Judicial evaluations of criminality in the demented individual might require different criteria that the classic ‘insanity defense,’ used in the American legal system;” the study authors write. Indeed, such findings beg the question of the appropriateness of punishing a person for a crime that they don’t even understand they’ve committed.
On an individual level, the knowledge that uncharacteristic criminal behavior can accompany the onset of FTD can be beneficial for family members who are perplexed by their loved one’s peculiar (sometimes disturbing) acts. The study authors suggest that an adult who suddenly engages in criminal or wildly inappropriate acts should be evaluated for dementia.
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