Humor Shift May Be Early Warning of Frontotemporal Dementia

happy-aging-300x238.jpgFrontotemporal dementia is the name for a number of related dementias that result from nerve cell loss in the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain. This causes significant changes in several areas, including a person’s personality, behavior, mastery of language, and muscle/motor control.

Personality and Behavior

Often the most distressing aspect of frontotemporal dementia involves the alterations in personality and behavior that may occur. Sometimes caregivers and loved ones speak of the person in their care as becoming someone they hardly even know. Empathy and judgment may be significantly impacted.

Because prompt treatment of frontotemporal dementia is crucial, knowing early warning signs can help lead to an earlier diagnosis. A recent study indicates that one of these early indicators may be a distinct change in a person’s sense of humor.

The Study

Altered Sense of Humor in Dementia​,” published in the Journal of Alzhe​imer’s Disease, looked at 48 patients with various forms of dementia. Caregivers were asked to fill out a questionnaire that dealt with how the patients reacted to several different kinds of comedy genres. It also asked the caregivers about the patients' reactions to these genres before dementia had occurred. There was also a control group of non-dementia patients who were consulted about their preferences.

When the scientists broke the results down, they found that almost all of the patients with frontotemporal dementia had experienced a change in  their sense of humor. They had become less interested in subtle, sophisticated forms of comedy and more likely to respond to simpler comedic styles. They also had become much more likely to laugh at inappropriate things or at inappropriate times.

This result is not surprising, as it has been seen often in patients with frontotemporal dementia. However, what is surprising is that this change in sense of humor predated the diagnosis of dementia. It indicates that a noticeable change in what makes a person laugh might be an early indicator of frontotemporal dementia.

Clearly, more studies need to be conducted to verify these findings. But in the meantime, it’s good for family members to be aware of this finding and, if necessary, to bring it to the attention of a doctor for advice.

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