An Overview of Frontal Lobe Damage

Symptoms of dysfunction can be physical, behavioral, or cognitive

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The frontal lobe is a large part of the brain. It extends from the front of the brain almost halfway to the back.

Damage to the frontal lobe can cause a range of symptoms. These can include behavioral problems, depression, and a loss of strength in the muscles.

A variety of conditions can damage the frontal lobe, including stroke, head trauma, and dementia.

This article discusses the frontal lobe of the brain, its functions, and the various conditions that can cause frontal lobe damage. It also discusses how frontal lobe damage is diagnosed and treated.

frontal lobe damage symptoms

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

Where Is the Frontal Lobe and What Does It Do?

The brain has two hemispheres, or halves: left and the right. The hemispheres are divided into three sections: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain.

Each section has specific functions:

  • The hindbrain controls involuntary functions (ones that happen without your control) like respiration and heart rate.
  • The midbrain is associated with coordination, alertness, vision, and hearing.
  • The forebrain controls a range of social, emotional, and cognitive (thinking) functions, as well as motor function and memory.

The forebrain includes a major part of the brain called the cerebrum. The outer layer of the cerebrum is called the cerebral cortex.

The frontal lobe is one of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex. The other lobes are the temporal lobe, the parietal lobe, and the occipital lobe.

Each of the four lobes has specific functions. Damage to any one of them will cause problems with these functions. The sections below describe the main functions of the frontal lobe.

Social and Emotional Skills

The frontal lobe is responsible for decision making and self-control. It also helps regulate emotions. This is the part of the brain that manages your interactions with other people. The frontal lobe regulates your behavior and helps you know what is socially acceptable and what is not.

Motor Function

The back of the frontal lobe is called the motor strip. This region controls and directs deliberate body movements.

The left side of the motor strip controls the right side of the body. The right side of the motor strip controls the left side of the body.

Language, Thinking, Reasoning, and Imagining

The frontal lobe controls high-level thinking and problem solving. It also helps you pay attention.

The human frontal lobe is much larger than that of other animals. It is also more complex, which helps humans perform complex tasks, innovate, and imagine.

Some functions are controlled primarily by the left frontal lobe. Others are controlled primarily by the right frontal lobe.

Everyone's frontal lobe has a dominant side. In most people, it is on the left, but it can also be on the right.

The dominant side of the frontal lobe is involved in a number of functions, including:

  • Language and speech
  • Rational and logical thinking, or the ability to make sense of things
  • Quantitative thinking, or thinking that has to do with numbers and statistics
  • Analytical reasoning, or the ability to make decisions after considering facts

The non-dominant frontal lobe is involved with more creative functions, including:

  • Creativity
  • Imagination
  • Intuition
  • Curiosity
  • Musical and artistic ability

Recap

The frontal lobe is a large part of the brain located in the cerebral cortex. It controls a broad range of functions including social and emotional skills, motor function, language, creativity, and rational thought. 

Symptoms of Frontal Lobe Damage

Because the frontal lobe has so many functions, a wide variety of symptoms can occur when it's damaged. Frontal lobe damage may lead to one or more of the following:

  • Weakness on one side of the body or one side of the face
  • Falling
  • Inability to solve problems or organize tasks
  • Reduced creativity
  • Impaired judgment
  • Reduced sense of taste or smell
  • Depression
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Changes in behavior
  • Low motivation
  • Poor attention span, being easily distracted
  • Reduced or increased sexual interest
  • Odd sexual habits
  • Impulsive or risky behavior
  • Trouble with communication

Causes

Damage to the frontal lobe is often caused by a stroke. It can also be caused by a degenerative disease, which is a disease that gets worse over time.

There are other, less common conditions that can also affect the frontal lobe.

Dementia

Dementia is a term used to describe conditions that cause memory loss and other problems with thinking and reasoning.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a group of disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes. FTD is the second most common cause of dementia in people under 65.

People with FTD usually have behavior and personality changes. They may also have trouble with language.

People with a type of Alzheimer’s disease called frontal-variant Alzheimer’s disease may have similar symptoms. This form of Alzheimer's disease is sometimes misdiagnosed as FTD.

Stroke

Strokes can also damage the frontal lobe. When blood flow to the frontal lobe is interrupted, it causes a loss of function in that part of the brain. This can also happen as a result of bleeding in the brain.

Vascular dementia can happen after multiple small strokes. This is the most common cause of frontal lobe impairment. Vascular dementia has been linked to Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative disorders of the brain.

Other Causes

Other conditions may cause damage or injury to the frontal lobe, including:

Diagnosis of Frontal Lobe Brain Injury

Healthcare providers can diagnose frontal lobe strokes and infections with diagnostic scans. Options include a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT or CAT).

An MRI creates a two or three dimensional image of the brain using a magnetic field and radio waves. A CT scan creates a 3D image from multiple X-rays.

Some causes, like dementia or a traumatic brain injury, may appear on a scan as atrophy, or brain tissue loss. The scan may also show nothing.

MRI and CT scans are both effective tools for diagnosing vascular dementia.

A complete neuropsychological evaluation or a concussion test can help a healthcare provider assess damage to the frontal lobe. These tests look at:

  • Speech skills
  • Motor skills
  • Social behavior
  • Spontaneity
  • Impulse control
  • Memory
  • Problem-solving
  • Language

Treatment of Frontal Lobe Brain Injury

Strategies for treating frontal lobe damage are different depending on the cause. For example, an infection can be treated with antibiotics. Brain tumors can be surgically removed or treated with chemotherapy or radiation.

There is currently no cure for degenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and dementia. Medication and lifestyle changes can help improve symptoms.

Rehabilitation

Motor weakness caused by frontal lobe damage can be treated with rehabilitation. This involves strengthening and optimizing remaining motor skills.

Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy

Rehabilitation can be difficult for cognitive and social problems caused by frontal lobe damage. Therapy that helps patients regulate emotions and curb impulsive behavior can be helpful.

Summary

The frontal lobe of the brain controls a number of important functions, including emotions, self-control, movement, language, and rational thought. Frontal lobe damage may affect any of these functions.

Frontal lobe damage can have many causes, including dementia and other degenerative brain diseases, stroke, infections, or brain tumors.

Frontal lobe damage can sometimes be diagnosed with imaging scans. In other cases, a neuropsychological evaluation may be necessary. 

Treatment for frontal lobe damage can include medication, surgery, rehabilitation, or therapy. 

A Word From Verywell

Brain damage is a challenging condition. If you or a loved one has damage to the frontal lobe, it may be helpful to know that some recovery may be possible, depending on the cause.

Behavioral and cognitive problems can be stressful and interfere with healthy relationships. Understanding the symptoms can help you manage your expectations.

It may be helpful to explain to an affected loved one why some behaviors are not appropriate. Sometimes, though, acceptance of your loved one's condition is the best option.

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8 Sources
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