Neuropsychiatric symptoms in the dementias

Curr Opin Neurol. 2002 Aug;15(4):445-50. doi: 10.1097/00019052-200208000-00007.


Purpose of review: Neuropsychiatric, or non-cognitive symptoms are increasingly recognized as manifestations of dementias.

Recent findings: In Alzheimer's disease, recent advances have included the identification of behavioral profiles, differentiation of apathy and depression, characterization of risk factors for psychosis and its links to agitation and aggression, and an analysis of depressive symptoms in the absence of major depression. Functional neuroimaging data mainly supported the role of the anterior cingulate in apathy. The orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate tangle burden were associated with agitation, and increased orbitofrontal and mid-temporal muscarinic M2 receptors with psychosis and hallucinations. Selected genetic polymorphisms of dopamine and serotonin receptors or transporters were linked with aggression, hallucinations or psychosis. When compared with other dementias, individuals with frontotemporal dementia disclosed, as expected, different behaviors and particularly aberrant social behavior. The frequency of delusions and visual hallucinations was increased in Parkinson's disease, Parkinson's disease with dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies, suggesting common mechanisms such as Lewy body pathology and cholinergic deficiency. The latter was supported by an improvement of these symptoms by cholinesterase inhibitors.

Summary: Future research directions include both clinical and basic neuroscience investigations. The detection of early neuropsychiatric symptoms might be a marker for dementia, and the possible existence of a mild neuropsychiatric impairment syndrome should be explored. More longitudinal studies with pathological confirmation will facilitate correlations with neuropsychiatric symptoms. Functional neuroimaging and behavioral neurogenetics will permit in-vivo correlations and consequently help patient management and care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis*