Tags: Brain | Disease | Triggers | Personality | Changes

Brain Disease Triggers Personality Changes

Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM

The finding may improve diagnosis and treatment of a rare neurological disease called frontotemporal dementia, neurologist Bruce Miller of the University California at San Francisco told the American Academy of Neurology.

In FTD, the frontal lobes of the brain slowly degenerate over time and usually patients eventually lose their cognitive abilities, said Miller. In some cases patients may show dramatic changes in behavior.

In seven of the 72 FTD patients Miller studied, there were startling shifts in personality - from shy to sexy, from devout Protestant to casual Catholic - and all but one of those had extensive loss of function in the right frontal lobe, which is above and behind the right eye.

Miller cited a real estate agent in her 50s, a sophisticated dresser who loved fine French cooking. As her disease progressed, he said, she developed the belief that she had a second personality called Jenny, who unlike the patient, was rude, loud, wore gaudy clothes and ate at fast food joints.

"Jenny, I think, was the person she was in the process of becoming in association with this disease," Miller said.

In another case, a 40-year-old man sold his business and tried several jobs, but was always fired. Previously, he had been self-reliant and aware of his own mistakes, but now started to blame his employers for his poor work record.

At home, Miller said, the man went from being short-tempered, close-fisted and puritanical about sex to being easy-going and permissive about sexual experimentation.

In all but one of the 65 patients who didn't show changes in self-image, both left and right frontal lobes were damaged equally, said Miller. He concluded that extra damage to the right side can cause the personality shifts.

The research is similar to studies in Toronto, where scientists at the Rotman Research Institute associated various essential functions to the right frontal lobe, including the sense of empathy and the sense of humor.

Rotman neurologist Don Stuss, a leading expert in the effects of damage to the right frontal lobes, said the UCSF study will be "enormously important clinically" because it will help doctors and the families of patients to understand such sharp personality changes.

"To understand the cause of the problem is the first step in early diagnosis and potentially treatment," he said.

Stuss said the California study is "the other side" of his own work, which has shown that the ability to understand the motives of others relies on the right frontal lobe. "To understand other people, you have to understand yourself," he said.

Neuropsychologist Barbara Fisher of Washington Township, Mich., and an expert on evaluating brain damage from both accidents and illnesses, said Miller's conclusions are not surprising. "I see it all the time," she said, usually in cases where the right frontal lobe has been injured in an accident. The difference, she said, is that patients with accidental damage often recover and regain their normal self.

"In this pathology (FTD), there is no recovery," Fisher said.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The finding may improve diagnosis and treatment of a rare neurological disease called frontotemporal dementia, neurologist Bruce Miller of the University California at San Francisco told the American Academy of Neurology. In FTD, the frontal lobes of the brain slowly...
Brain,Disease,Triggers,Personality,Changes
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2001-00-08
Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM
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