Background: Dementia is generally characterized by cognitive impairment that can be accompanied by psychotic symptoms; for example, visual hallucinations are a core feature of dementia with Lewy bodies, and delusions are often seen in Alzheimer's disease. However, for behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), studies on the broad spectrum of psychotic symptoms are still lacking. The aim of this study was to systematically and prospectively subtype the wide spectrum of psychotic symptoms in probable and definite bvFTD.
Methods: In this study, a commonly used and validated clinical scale that quantifies the broad spectrum of psychotic symptoms (Positive and Negative Symptom Scale) was used in patients with probable and definite bvFTD (n=22) and with a primary psychiatric disorder (n=35) in a late-onset frontal lobe cohort. Median symptom duration was 2.8 years, and the patients were prospectively followed for 2 years.
Results: In total, 22.7% of bvFTD patients suffered from delusions, hallucinatory behavior, and suspiciousness, although the majority of the patients exhibited negative psychotic symptoms such as social and emotional withdrawal and blunted affect (95.5%) and formal thought disorders (81.8%). "Difficulty in abstract thinking" and "stereotypical thinking" (formal thought disorders) differentiated bvFTD from psychiatric disorders. The combined predictors difficulty in abstract thinking, stereotypical thinking, "anxiety", "guilt feelings," and "tension" explained 75.4% of variance in the diagnosis of bvFTD versus psychiatric diagnoses (P<0.001).
Conclusion: Delusions, hallucinatory behavior, and suspiciousness were present in one-fifth of bvFTD patients, whereas negative psychotic symptoms such as social and emotional withdrawal, blunted affect, and formal thought disorders were more frequently present. This suggests that negative psychotic symptoms and formal thought disorders have an important role in the psychiatric misdiagnosis in bvFTD; misdiagnosis in bvFTD might be reduced by systematically exploring the broad spectrum of psychiatric symptoms.
Keywords: formal thought disorders; frontotemporal dementia; psychosis; schizophrenia.