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Latest Treatments for Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD): High-Dose Oxytocin Emerges as the Standout (2023 Review)

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a challenging and impactful neurodegenerative disease.

Recent research offers new insights into its management, particularly regarding the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments.


  • High-Dose Oxytocin Shows Promise: High-dose oxytocin (72 international units) has been linked to significant improvements in neuropsychiatric symptoms and daily interactive activities in FTD patients.
  • Piracetam Poses Risks: Contrarily, piracetam has been found to exacerbate neuropsychiatric symptoms and increase caregiver stress, suggesting it should be avoided in FTD treatment.
  • Lack of Cognitive Function Improvement: No pharmacological intervention in the study showed significant benefits in improving cognitive function in FTD patients.
  • Need for More Research: While this study offers valuable insights, it emphasizes the need for continued research and development of targeted therapies for FTD.

Source: American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2023)

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD): What is it?

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) represents a spectrum of neurodegenerative disorders primarily affecting the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

It is notably distinct from other forms of dementia in several ways:

  • Age of Onset: FTD typically manifests at a younger age, usually between 45 and 65 years, affecting individuals in their prime working years.
  • Symptoms: The disease is characterized by notable changes in personality, behavior, and language. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss isn’t a primary symptom in the early stages of FTD.
  • Types: FTD is classified into various subtypes, each associated with distinct symptoms:
  • Behavioral Variant FTD (bvFTD): Characterized by significant changes in personality and behavior. Symptoms include disinhibition, apathy, loss of empathy, and inappropriate social behavior.
  • Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA): This subtype includes language-related disorders like non-fluent/agrammatic PPA and semantic PPA, marked by difficulties in speech production or language comprehension.
  • Pathology: FTD involves the progressive loss of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes. The accumulation of abnormal proteins, such as tau or TDP-43, is often implicated in this process.

Current Treatments for FTD: Symptom Management


Used to manage behavioral symptoms associated with FTD, such as depression and impulsivity.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed. They can help alleviate mood disorders and some impulsive behaviors.

While they can address certain symptoms, they do not slow the progression of the disease.


These are prescribed for managing more severe behavioral problems, such as aggression, agitation, or psychosis.

They can have significant side effects, including sedation, motor disturbances, and increased risk of cardiovascular events. Their use is often a balance between benefits and potential harm, especially in elderly patients.

Cholinesterase Inhibitors & Memantine

These drugs are standard in treating Alzheimer’s disease and work by enhancing cholinergic neurotransmission.

The effectiveness of these medications in FTD is a subject of ongoing debate. While some studies suggest modest benefits, others indicate limited or no improvement in FTD symptoms.

Drugs like donepezil and rivastigmine may have some benefits in managing symptoms but are not considered effective in altering the disease course.

An NMDA receptor antagonist, memantine, is theorized to help with symptoms related to neuronal excitotoxicity but has shown mixed results in FTD treatment.

Why we need better treatments for FTD…

  • Limited Efficacy: Current treatments primarily address symptoms rather than the underlying cause of FTD. They often have limited efficacy and can come with side effects.
  • Lack of Specific Therapies: There are no treatments currently available that can stop or reverse the progression of FTD. Most therapies are borrowed from treatments for other types of dementia.
  • Cognitive Decline: One of the significant challenges in FTD treatment is the lack of effective interventions for cognitive decline, a primary feature of the disease.
  • Personalized Medicine: There is a growing need for personalized medicine approaches, given the variability in symptoms and progression rates among FTD patients.

High-Dose Oxytocin for Frontotemporal Dementia Treatment

High-dose oxytocin has emerged as a promising treatment for neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

Oxytocin, often dubbed the “love hormone,” is naturally produced in the brain and is known for its roles in social bonding, emotional regulation, and stress reduction.

In the context of FTD, which significantly impacts social and emotional cognition, oxytocin’s role becomes particularly relevant.

The administration of high-dose oxytocin may amplify these natural effects, addressing the deficits in social interaction and emotional processing that characterize FTD.

Specific Symptoms

A review highlighted that high-dose oxytocin (72 IU) significantly improved neuropsychiatric symptoms in FTD.

These symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  1. Apathy & Depression: A common symptom in FTD, apathy involves a lack of motivation and interest, while depression includes persistent sadness and loss of interest. Oxytocin may alleviate these by enhancing emotional engagement and mood regulation.
  2. Aggression & Irritability: FTD can lead to increased irritability and aggression. Oxytocin, through its calming and bonding effects, may help reduce these behaviors.
  3. Social Cognition Deficits: Impairments in recognizing social cues and engaging in social interactions are core challenges in FTD. Oxytocin could improve social cognition, enhancing patients’ ability to understand and react appropriately in social contexts.

Mechanisms of Action in FTD

The specific mechanisms through which high-dose oxytocin exerts its effects in FTD patients are multifaceted:

  • Enhancing Social Brain Networks: Oxytocin is known to increase activity in brain regions involved in social cognition, such as the amygdala, hypothalamus, and parts of the prefrontal cortex. By stimulating these areas, oxytocin can enhance empathy, social awareness, and emotional processing, which are often impaired in FTD.
  • Modulating Stress and Anxiety Responses: Oxytocin interacts with the body’s stress response system, particularly the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. By modulating this system, oxytocin can reduce stress and anxiety levels, which are frequently elevated in FTD patients.
  • Improving Emotional Regulation: Oxytocin plays a crucial role in regulating emotions. In FTD, where emotional dysregulation is common, oxytocin may help stabilize mood swings and improve overall emotional well-being.
  • Influencing Neurotransmitter Systems: Oxytocin can interact with various neurotransmitter systems, including serotonin and dopamine pathways, which are essential for mood regulation and reward processing. These interactions might partly explain the improvements in neuropsychiatric symptoms seen in FTD patients.

Findings in the Latest Frontotemporal Dementia Treatments (2023 Review)

The review’s findings provide critical insights into the efficacy of various pharmacological treatments for frontotemporal dementia (FTD), focusing on neuropsychiatric symptoms, caregiver stress, and cognitive function.

High-Dose Oxytocin (72 IU)

  • Improvement in Neuropsychiatric Symptoms: The most notable finding was that high-dose oxytocin significantly improved neuropsychiatric symptoms in FTD patients. The standardized mean difference (SMD) was -1.17, with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) ranging from -2.25 to -0.08. This suggests a notable reduction in symptoms compared to the placebo group.
  • Impact on Daily Interactive Activities: High-dose oxytocin also showed positive effects on patients’ daily interactive activities, although the specific statistics for this outcome were not detailed in the initial summary.


  • Worsening of Neuropsychiatric Symptoms: Piracetam was found to significantly exacerbate neuropsychiatric symptoms, with an SMD of 3.48 and 95% CIs from 1.58 to 5.37. This indicates a substantial increase in symptom severity compared to placebo.
  • Increased Caregiver Stress: The treatment with piracetam also led to increased caregiver stress. The SMD for this outcome was 2.40, with 95% CIs ranging from 0.80 to 4.01, highlighting a significant negative impact on caregivers.


  • Rates of Adverse Events: Trazodone was associated with a higher incidence of adverse events compared to placebo. The odds ratio (OR) for adverse events was 9.53, with 95% CIs from 1.85 to 49.20. This suggests a significantly higher risk of negative side effects.
  • Effect on Neuropsychiatric Symptoms: While trazodone was explored for its potential to improve neuropsychiatric symptoms, the results did not show a significant difference from placebo. The SMD was -0.48, with 95% CIs of -1.28 to 0.33, indicating no statistically significant improvement.

Other Drugs

  • Memantine, Tolcapone, Other Doses of Oxytocin: The study also included evaluations of memantine, tolcapone, and different doses of oxytocin (low and medium doses). These drugs and dosages did not show significant changes in neuropsychiatric symptoms compared to placebo.
  • Cognitive Function: No pharmacological intervention, including memantine or tolcapone, demonstrated a significant benefit in improving cognitive function in FTD patients. This finding is crucial, as cognitive decline is a primary concern in FTD management.

Statistical Significance & Effect Sizes

  • Statistical Analysis: The study used z-scores and p-values to assess the statistical significance of the findings. For instance, high-dose oxytocin showed a z-score of -2.10 with a p-value of 0.035, indicating statistical significance in improving neuropsychiatric symptoms.
  • Standardized Mean Differences (SMDs): The SMDs provided a measure of effect size, indicating the magnitude of the difference between drug treatments and placebo. Negative SMD values (like those for high-dose oxytocin) indicated improvements, while positive values (as seen with piracetam) indicated a worsening of symptoms.

Latest Frontotemporal Dementia Treatments (2023 Review)

Mao-Hsuan Huang et al. conducted a review to evaluate the efficacy and safety of various pharmacological interventions in treating neuropsychiatric symptoms of frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

This was achieved through a network meta-analysis (NMA), which sought to identify the most effective treatments while also highlighting potential risks associated with specific drugs.


  • Systematic Review: The study involved a systematic search of several databases, targeting randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that examined drug therapy in FTD patients, specifically focusing on neuropsychiatric symptoms.
  • Selection Criteria: Criteria for inclusion were clinical RCTs involving pharmacological interventions for FTD, with a primary focus on changes in FTD-related neuropsychiatric symptoms, caregiver burden, daily interactive activity, cognitive function, and side effects.
  • Data: The analysis was conducted using the frequentist NMA model, comparing effect sizes among studies. Outcomes were measured as standardized mean differences (SMD) or odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).


  • High-Dose Oxytocin (72 IU): This was associated with the most significant improvement in neuropsychiatric symptoms of FTD patients.
  • Piracetam: It significantly worsened neuropsychiatric symptoms and increased caregiver stress.
  • Trazodone: This drug had higher rates of adverse events compared to placebo.
  • No Cognitive Benefits: The study found that no pharmacological intervention significantly improved cognitive function in FTD patients.


  • Small Sample Size: The study included only 243 participants across seven RCTs, limiting the statistical power.
  • Heterogeneity: There was considerable variation in participant characteristics and diagnostic criteria for FTD, potentially affecting the generalizability of the results.
  • Short-Term Focus: The varying and often short treatment durations in the included studies limit the understanding of long-term effects.
  • Exclusion of Certain Drugs: Some potential drug treatments, such as cholinesterase inhibitors, were excluded due to study design limitations.

Which specific drugs were mentioned in the review of FTD treatments?

1. High-Dose Oxytocin (72 IU)

  • Mechanism: Oxytocin is known for its role in social bonding and emotional regulation. At high doses, it potentially improves neuropsychiatric symptoms by influencing brain regions related to social cognition and emotional processing.
  • Efficacy: This was the most effective treatment in the study for improving neuropsychiatric symptoms and daily interactive activities in FTD patients.

2. Piracetam

  • Risks: Piracetam is typically used for cognitive impairments but was found to significantly exacerbate neuropsychiatric symptoms and increase caregiver stress in FTD.
  • Recommendation: The study suggests avoiding the use of piracetam in treating FTD due to its adverse effects on patient behavior and caregiver burden.

3. Trazodone

  • Efficacy: Trazodone showed potential in improving neuropsychiatric symptoms but did not reach statistical significance.
  • Side Effects: Noted for higher rates of adverse events, requiring careful monitoring for effects such as sedation and hypotension.
  • Use: It acts as a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor, necessitating cautious dose management.

4. Memantine

  • Use in FTD: Often used in Alzheimer’s disease, memantine’s effectiveness in FTD is less clear.
  • Mechanism: Memantine is an NMDA receptor antagonist, which may help regulate abnormal glutamate activity thought to contribute to neurodegeneration.
  • Efficacy: The study did not find significant benefits of memantine in improving cognitive function or neuropsychiatric symptoms in FTD patients.

5. Paroxetine

  • Class: A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant.
  • Use in FTD: Explored for its potential to manage mood symptoms and impulsivity in FTD.
  • Efficacy and Safety: The study found mixed results with paroxetine, indicating inconsistency in its effectiveness and concerns about potential side effects.

6. Tolcapone

  • Mechanism: Tolcapone is a catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitor, primarily used in Parkinson’s disease, and affects dopamine metabolism.
  • Investigation in FTD: Considered for its potential neuroprotective effects and impact on cognitive function.
  • Study Findings: The review did not demonstrate significant benefits of tolcapone in the treatment of FTD symptoms.

What are the major clinical takeaways from the review?

  • Tailoring Treatment Plans: The recent findings regarding pharmacological treatments for frontotemporal dementia (FTD) offer new avenues for clinicians to tailor treatment plans more effectively. Considering the individual patient’s symptom profile, history, and response to previous treatments will be crucial in applying these findings.
  • Considering High-Dose Oxytocin: Given the efficacy of high-dose oxytocin in reducing neuropsychiatric symptoms, it may be considered a primary treatment option for FTD patients exhibiting severe behavioral and emotional disturbances. Clinicians should monitor patients closely for any side effects and adjust dosages as needed.
  • Avoiding Piracetam: The findings suggest that piracetam should be avoided in the treatment of FTD, particularly in patients prone to neuropsychiatric symptoms, due to its potential to exacerbate these symptoms and increase caregiver stress.
  • Careful Consideration with Trazodone: While trazodone showed potential in managing neuropsychiatric symptoms, its higher rate of adverse events calls for cautious use. It might be more suitable for patients who have not responded well to other treatments and where its benefits outweigh the risks.
  • Holistic Approach: These findings underscore the importance of a holistic approach in treating FTD, which includes pharmacotherapy, caregiver support, and possibly non-pharmacological interventions like behavioral therapy and lifestyle modifications.

Conclusion: FTD Treatment Options (2023)

The study on pharmacological treatments for frontotemporal dementia (FTD) provides critical insights into managing this complex neurodegenerative condition.

High-dose oxytocin emerged as a promising intervention, significantly improving neuropsychiatric symptoms and daily interactive activities, highlighting its potential as a key therapeutic agent in FTD treatment.

Conversely, piracetam was found to exacerbate neuropsychiatric symptoms and caregiver stress, advising against its use in FTD management.

Trazodone, while showing some potential, requires cautious use due to its higher rates of adverse events.

 The study also underscored a significant gap in addressing cognitive decline in FTD, as none of the drugs reviewed showed substantial efficacy in this area.

Overall, these findings emphasize the need for personalized treatment approaches and further research to develop more effective and targeted therapies for FTD.


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