Nightly News   |  June 13, 2013

Unusual form of dementia afflicts younger patients

Frontotemporal dementia affects a different area of the brain than Alzheimer’s, destroying the frontal lobes and spurring big personality changes. NBC’s Robert Bazell reports.

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>>> back with health news and a disease increasingly being recognized. a deterioration of the brain different from alzheimer's and causes different problems. robert bazell report that it still causes people's lives to slip away.

>> reporter: two years ago, 62-year-old barbara whitmarch was highly regarded scientist at the institute of public health . john, her husband, began to notice changes.

>> her ability to feel empathy. her personality disappeared over time. that's the hardest part of this disease. she would say is anything wrong? she would say no, i love you, everything is fine. and she said it in that flat way.

>> reporter: john, also a scientist, was worried and asked her to see a psychiatrist. she was diagnosed with frontal temporal ddementia. it does not start with memory problems, but with personality changes.

>> it's a tragic problem, because often the first manifestation of the disease are bad judgments, disruption of family infrastructure happens.

>> reporter: now barbara lives in a locked nursing home. she moves come pull civil a compulsively. she rarely recognizes john or their children and rarely speaks. doctors thought ftd was rare, but they now realize it's not.

>> it's more common in people that alzheimer's disease in people under 60.

>> reporter: before her illness, barbara watched her weight closely. gained 30 pounds in a year.

>> food is probably central to thinking, behavior, walking. she forages, if you will.

>> reporter: no treatment for ftd . victims' brains continue deteriorating and they die within years. not only is ftd far more common than most people realize, studying it could provide clues to more important conditions, including lou gehrig 's and huntington's disease. more awareness of the disease could spare families of victims, the pain of believing their loved ones no longer care. robert bazell , nbc news, sacramento.