BACKGROUND: Severe socio-emotional impairments characterize the behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). However, literature reports social cognition disorders in other dementias.
OBJECTIVE: In this study, we investigated the accuracy of social cognition performances in the early and differential diagnosis of bvFTD.
METHODS: We included 131 subjects: 32 bvFTD, 26 Alzheimer's disease (AD), 16 primary progressive aphasia (PPA), 17 corticobasal syndrome (CBS), and 40 healthy control (HC). Each subject completed the Ekman 60 faces (Ek-60F) test assessing basic emotion recognition and the Story-based Empathy Task (SET) assessing attribution of intentions/emotions. A combined social measure (i.e., Emotion Recognition and Attribution (ERA) index) was calculated. One-way ANOVA has been used to compare performances among groups, while receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve tested measures ability to distinguish subjects with and without bvFTD.
RESULTS: Ek-60F and ERA index scores were significantly lower in bvFTD versus HC, AD, and PPA groups. ROC analyses significantly distinguished bvFTD from HC (AUC 0.82-0.92), with the Ek-60F test showing the highest performance, followed by the ERA index. These two social measures showed the best accuracy in detecting bvFTD from AD (AUC 0.78-0.74) and PPA (AUC 0.80-0.76). Investigated measures failed in detecting bvFTD from CBS.
CONCLUSION: Accuracy analyses support the advantage of using social cognition tests for bvFTD diagnosis. Short social battery may reduce uncertainties and improve disease identification in clinical settings. We recommend a revision of current clinical criteria considering neuropsychological deficits in emotion recognition and processing tasks as key cognitive markers of this neurodegenerative syndrome.