Frontal lobe atrophy is a reduction in size of the frontal lobe, the foremost area of the brain. This part of the brain is responsible for a number of very important processes, and as a result, changes to its shape and structure can cause a variety of problems. Patients with an atrophied frontal lobe may experience it as a standalone issue or in association with an underlying disease. Many neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s are associated with shrinkage in the frontal lobe over time.
Patients with this neurological condition can develop planning, emotional regulation, movement, and critical thinking impairments. Sometimes the condition onsets slowly. The symptoms are sometimes mistaken as signs of mental illness before more progressive symptoms indicative of neurological problems develop. For example, a patient might have disorganized thinking, emotional outbursts, and hallucinations, leading a doctor to suspect a condition like schizophrenia initially.
As frontal lobe atrophy progresses, the patient may start to develop movement disorders and more obvious neurological deficits. The frontal lobe helps the body plan and execute voluntary movements. Patients with degeneration in the frontal lobe may move more slowly, shake, or have difficulty with fine motor tasks. Sometimes they have difficulty moving at all. This can also affect speech and eating, as the patient may have difficulty swallowing and articulating clearly.
A medical imaging study can show signs of frontal lobe atrophy, especially when it is extreme. Detailed full color images of the brain may help a doctor identify specific areas of shrinkage. These can provide information about the patient’s symptoms and what the patient can expect. Medical testing may also provide information about why the frontal lobe is shrinking. The damage is irreversible, but patients may benefit from therapy and other options to help them retain function as long as possible.
Researchers sometimes have an interest in patients with frontal lobe atrophy, because the gradual breakdown of function can be tied to specific areas of the brain. This can help researchers pinpoint the areas of the brain responsible for different activities, which can in turn help with the treatment of patients who have neurological disorders. Research participants sometimes receive compensation for their assistance and also have access to a variety of treatment options that are free of charge if they are associated with the research. A neurologist can provide more information on open clinical trials and whether a patient is eligible for participation in a trial.