Disclaimer: The author is not a medical professional and does not represent herself as a medical expert, merely an observer asking a question worth considering in light of recent events.
Increasingly disturbing accounts from women reporting sexual harassment by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner have left observers scratching their heads for a possible explanation. It seems inconceivable for an elected official who has been in the public eye for decades to think it’s acceptable to treat women like “sexual objects or stupid idiots” as former communications director Irene McCormack Jackson put it.
Thursday’s revelations that a 67-year-old great-grandmother employed at the City of San Diego’s senior services information desk was subjected to sexual come-ons and locker room bragging by Mayor Filner were jaw-dropping to say the least.
On the same day, citizens learned Mayor Filner had run up personal and business expenses on a City credit card and failed to pay the bill, putting the City’s entire credit rating at risk.
Filner’s lack of impulse control, failure to be responsible, lashing out, outbursts of temper, and abusive behavior all happen to be common in individuals suffering from a specific type of dementia which primarily affects people starting in their 50s and 60s — frontotemporal degeneration, or FTD.
It may seem far-fetched — but the stories about the Mayor’s out of control behavior would have seemed far-fetched six months ago.
I am not a medical professional and I don’t pretend to be. But many of us have been made aware of the explosion in dementia cases in the U.S. due largely to the exploding baby boomer population, coupled with better medical diagnoses. Sadly, like many people I have observed the experiences of family members caring for those affected. Disturbing behavior changes are common and perplexing. In retrospect they often turn out to be the first sign of serious problems.
Information provided by the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration’s (AFTD) website are chilling when matched against the Mayor’s behavior.
A general description of the disease states, “Frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) is a disease process that results in progressive damage to the anterior temporal and/or frontal lobes of the brain. It causes a group of brain disorders that share many clinical features. The hallmark of FTD is a gradual, progressive decline in behavior and/or language that often has a relatively young age at onset (mid-50s to 60s) … As the disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to plan or organize activities, behave appropriately in social or work settings, interact with others… (author emphasis added) FTD represents an estimated 10%-20% of all dementia cases and is recognized as one of the most common dementias affecting a younger population.”
Under discussion of the clinical presentation, the website describes the behavioral symptoms:
“Frontotemporal degeneration characterized by loss of empathy and increasingly inappropriate social behavior is known clinically as behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD), Pick’s disease, or frontal variant FTD (fvFTD) …
“Behavioral changes are typically seen as changes in personality, emotional blunting or loss of empathy that result in increasingly inappropriate social behavior. People gradually become less involved in routine daily activities and withdraw emotionally from others. Despite acting this way at home, they may also become disinhibited when in public or with strangers. Unusual behaviors may include swearing, overeating (especially carbohydrates) or drinking, impulsivity, shoplifting, hypersexual behavior …
“Accompanying this is a decreasing self-awareness: the patient displays little insight into how inappropriate his or her behavior is, and little or no concern for its effect on other people, including family and friends.”
I know nothing of Mayor Filner’s personal medical or psychological history. But here we have a 70-year-old man demonstrating a shocking array of behavioral problems. It’s hard to explain this reckless, reprehensible behavior.
Any diagnosis whether FTD or anything else would in no way excuse in any way what Filner has done to hurt dozens of women over the past decade. But it would give San Diegans a way to finally make sense of the senseless.
Does this get you thinking like it’s got me thinking?