The frontal lobe of the brain is vital to human consciousness, as well as functions that appear uniquely human, such as spoken language. Frontal lobe damage can lead to a wide variety of symptoms

It is the largest of four paired lobes in the brain’s cerebral cortex. It is situated directly behind the forehead, and it contributes to a range of vital roles, including:

  • memory
  • judgment
  • abstract thought
  • creativity
  • social appropriateness
  • motor tasks, which involve voluntary movement

The frontal lobes are the most common area for injury to occur in the brain. Damage can lead to a wide variety of symptoms, such as loss of movement, difficulty speaking, and changes in social behavior.

In this article, learn about what the frontal lobe is, the role it plays, and what to expect if problems arise.

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The frontal lobe is part of the brain’s cerebral cortex. It consists of two paired lobes: the left and right frontal cortex.

As the name implies, the location of the frontal lobe is near the front of the head, under the frontal skull bones and near the forehead.

All mammals have a frontal lobe, though the size and complexity vary between species.

The two sides of the brain largely control operations on the opposite sides of the body. This is also true of the frontal lobe.

So, the left frontal lobe affects muscles on the right side of the body. Similarly, the right frontal lobe controls muscles on the left side of the body. This can determine how a brain injury impacts the body.

The brain is a complex organ, with billions of cells called neurons working together. Scientists are still learning about what these neurons do and how they work.

The frontal lobe works alongside other brain regions and contributes to overall brain function. Memory formation, for example, depends on sensory input, which depends on numerous areas of the brain. As such, it is a mistake to attribute any one role of the brain to a single region.

What is more, the brain may “rewire” itself to compensate for an injury.

The frontal lobe plays a key role in future planning, including self-management and decision-making.

People with frontal lobe damage may find it difficult to gather information, remember previous experiences, and make decisions based on this input.

Some of the many other functions the frontal lobe plays in daily functions include:

  • Speech and language production: Broca’s area, a region in the frontal lobe, helps put thoughts into words. Damage to this area can lead to difficulty with fluent speech.
  • Some motor skills: The frontal lobe houses the primary motor cortex, which helps control voluntary movements, including walking and running.
  • Comparing objects: The frontal lobe helps people categorize and classify objects and distinguish one item from another.
  • Forming memories: Virtually every brain region plays a role in memory, so the frontal lobe is not unique. However, research suggests it plays a key role in forming long-term memories.
  • Understanding and reacting to the feelings of others: The frontal lobe is vital for empathy.
  • Forming personality: The complex interplay of impulse control, memory, and other tasks helps form an individual’s key characteristics. Damage to the frontal lobe can impact an individual’s personality.
  • Reward-seeking behavior and motivation: Many of the brain’s dopamine-sensitive neurons are in the frontal lobe. Dopamine is a brain chemical that helps support feelings of reward and motivation.
  • Managing attention, including selective attention: When the frontal lobe cannot properly manage attention, conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may develop.

Early understanding and writings about the function of the frontal lobe came from studying a railroad worker, Phineas Gage, in 1848.

Gage survived after a railroad spike impaled a portion of his frontal lobe at the age of 25 years. Though Gage survived, he lost his eye and much of his personality.

Gage’s personality dramatically changed, and the once mild-mannered worker struggled to stick to even simple plans. He became “rude” in speech and demeanor and had little impulse control.

However, little was known for sure about Gage’s personality before his accident, and many stories about him may be exaggerated or false.

Since then, neuroimaging and research focusing on people with frontal lobe damage have provided extensive information about how the frontal lobe works.

Some reasons why damage can occur include:

  • dementia
  • a traumatic injury
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • brain tumor
  • a stroke

What to expect

It is not possible to accurately predict the outcome of any given frontal lobe injury, and similar injuries may develop quite differently in each person.

If damage affects the frontal lobe due to a blow to the head, a stroke, a tumor, dementia, or other diseases, the following symptoms may appear:

  • speech and language problems
  • changes in personality
  • loss of coordination
  • difficulty focusing
  • difficulties with impulse control
  • trouble planning or sticking to a schedule
  • paralysis in certain parts of the body
  • difficulty planning the steps of a task or thinking flexibly
  • loss of spontaneity in interactions with others
  • loss of insight into problems and difficulty solving problems
  • changes in social behavior and personality
  • fluctuations in mood
  • reduced motivation

What is a traumatic brain injury, and how can it affect a person?

To treat symptoms resulting from damage to the frontal lobe, a doctor will treat the underlying cause as well as the symptoms.

A doctor may:

  • prescribe medication to treat an infection
  • carry out surgery to remove a growth
  • give medication to dissolve a blood clot, in the case of a stroke
  • recommend dietary changes or exercise to reduce the risk of a second stroke
  • make a treatment plan for long-term care, if a person has dementia
  • suggest rehabilitation to help the person regain as much function as possible

A person may need ongoing care, and doctors may continually reevaluate the treatment strategy. The team may include speech and occupational therapists, doctors, psychotherapists, neurologists, imaging specialists, and other professionals.

The brain can sometimes learn to work around an injury as other regions compensate for damage. Occupational, speech, and physical therapy can help with this. These treatments can prove especially helpful in the early stages of recovery, as the brain begins to heal.

Frontal lobe damage can affect personality, emotion, and behavior. Individual, couple, and family counseling may help with the management of these changes.

Medications that address impulse control issues can also be useful, particularly for people who face challenges with attention and motivation.

Treatment for frontal lobe damage is often varied.

Recovering from a frontal lobe injury is typically a long process. Progress can come suddenly or infrequently and is impossible to fully predict. Recovery is closely tied to supportive care, regular cognitive challenges, and a lifestyle that supports good health.

Here are some answers to questions people often ask about frontal lobe damage.

What causes frontal lobe problems?

Damage to the frontal lobe can result from dementia, a traumatic injury, multiple sclerosis, a brain tumor, a stroke, and other causes.

What are the symptoms of frontal lobe damage?

Damage to the frontal lobe can affect speech and language, memory, attention, judgment, creativity, movement, emotion, behavior, and other key functions.

Is it treatable?

Treatment will depend on the cause of the damage. Medication can help with some kinds of dementia. Speech therapy and physical therapy may also benefit some people.

The frontal lobe is part of the frontal cortex. It is a part of the brain that plays a role in memory, attention, judgment, and other vital functions.

Damage to the frontal lobe can occur as a result of dementia, a traumatic injury, multiple sclerosis, a brain tumor, or a stroke. It can affect a person’s ability to use language, remember past events, and make decisions.

Scientists are still learning about the frontal lobe and its functions. As some experts have said, it seems to play an essential role in “what makes us human.”