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Dementia found to decrease sexual activity

In a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Dr Rebekah Ahmed and colleagues found that patients with dementia show a decrease in sexual relations with their partners.

The study, led by NeuRA’s Prof John Hodges focused specifically on patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common cause of young-onset dementia (aged less than 65 years), which is typically associated with changes in behaviour and personality. FTD is the umbrella term for both behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) and semantic dementia (SD).

Previously it was assumed patients with bvFTD had prominent hypersexual (over active) behaviour.

Dr Ahmed says, “Surprisingly, there has been little examination of sexual function in FTD other than isolated reports of hypersexuality. We found the opposite to be the case.”

The team conducted face-to-face clinical interviews with the partners of 49 dementia patients to document changes in sexual function before and after the development of dementia.

The team examined both bvFTD patients and semantic dementia (the language variant of FTD) patients and compared these findings to a cohort of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients.

Contrary to previous reports, the bvFTD patients showed prominent hyposexual behaviour including decreased affection, initiation and response to advances by partners, and decreased frequency of sexual relations compared to AD and to SD patients.

BvFTD patients also showed a decrease in giving and receiving affection, whereas AD and SD patients still liked to receive affection from their partners.

Dr Ahmed says, “Loss of affection, reduced initiation of sexual activity and responsiveness is an overwhelming feature of bvFTD that has not previously being reported. Hypersexuality was observed in only a minority of bvFTD patients.

“These changes are likely to reflect the degeneration of multiple regions in the brain, including frontal regions and the hypothalamus, and neuroendocrine abnormalities.”

Dr Ahmed says she suspects few clinicians enquire about sexual function and proposes that enquiry into this core feature of FTD should be a routine part of diagnostic interviews.

“This will help caregivers and partners to better understand the origins of this dramatic behavioural change in their loved ones.”