Relative sparing of episodic memory is a diagnostic criterion of behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). However, increasing evidence suggests that bvFTD patients can show episodic memory deficits at a similar level as Alzheimer's disease (AD). Social cognition tasks have been proposed to distinguish bvFTD, but no study to date has explored the utility of such tasks for the diagnosis of amnestic bvFTD. Here, we contrasted social cognition performance of amnestic and non-amnestic bvFTD from AD, with a subgroup having confirmed in vivo pathology markers. Ninety-six participants (38 bvFTD and 28 AD patients as well as 30 controls) performed the short Social-cognition and Emotional Assessment (mini-SEA). BvFTD patients were divided into amnestic versus non-amnestic presentation using the validated Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test (FCSRT) assessing episodic memory. As expected, the accuracy of the FCSRT to distinguish the overall bvFTD group from AD was low (69.7% ) with ∼50% of bvFTD patients being amnestic. By contrast, the diagnostic accuracy of the mini-SEA was high (87.9% ). When bvFTD patients were split on the level of amnesia, mini-SEA diagnostic accuracy remained high (85.1% ) for amnestic bvFTD versus AD and increased to very high (93.9% ) for non-amnestic bvFTD versus AD. Social cognition deficits can distinguish bvFTD and AD regardless of amnesia to a high degree and provide a simple way to distinguish both diseases at presentation. These findings have clear implications for the diagnostic criteria of bvFTD. They suggest that the emphasis should be on social cognition deficits with episodic memory deficits not being a helpful diagnostic criterion in bvFTD.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; amnesia; differential diagnosis; episodic memory; frontotemporal dementia; neuropsychology; social-cognition.