Social Cognition Differentiates Behavioral Variant Frontotemporal Dementia From Other Neurodegenerative Diseases and Psychiatric Disorders

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2018 May;26(5):569-579. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2017.12.008. Epub 2018 Feb 1.


Objective: Although deficits in social cognition are established as core features in behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), it remains unresolved if impaired social cognition distinguishes bvFTD from the broad differential diagnoses in clinical practice. Our aim was to study whether social cognition discriminates bvFTD from other neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders in patients presenting with late-onset frontal symptoms. Next, we studied the association of social cognition with frontal symptoms and cognitive functioning.

Methods: In this longitudinal multicenter study, besides clinical rating scales for frontal symptoms, social cognition was determined by Ekman 60 Faces test and Faux Pas in addition to neuropsychological tests for other cognitive domains in patients with probable and definite bvFTD (N = 22), other neurodegenerative diseases (N = 24), and psychiatric disorders (N = 33). Median symptom duration was 2.8 years, and patients were prospectively followed over 2 years.

Results: Total scores from Ekman 60 Faces test were significantly lower in bvFTD than in other neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders. Ekman 60 Faces test explained 91.2% of the variance of psychiatric disorders and other neurodegenerative diseases versus bvFTD (χ2 = 11.02, df = 1, p = 0.001) and was associated with all other cognitive domains. Faux Pas and the other cognitive domains did not differ between these diagnostic groups.

Conclusion: In this clinical sample Ekman 60 Faces test distinguished bvFTD successfully from other neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders. Although associated with social cognition, other cognitive domains were not discriminative. This study provides arguments to add the Ekman 60 Faces test to the neuropsychological examination in the diagnostic procedure of bvFTD.

Keywords: Ekman 60 Faces test; Faux pas test; Social cognition; behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia; old age psychiatry.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • ROC Curve
  • Social Behavior*