A New Diagnostic Marker for Frontotemporal Dementia

In their recent research, the researchers have come up with a new sign and an advanced diagnostic tool which may help in distinguishing of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) from a more common form of dementia- Alzheimer’s disease.

Frontotemporal dementia, also known as Pick’s disease is a rare form of dementia as compared to Alzheimer’s disease. It develops when the brain cells of the frontal and temporal lobes get damaged. It is not necessary that both the lobes should be damaged; a single lobe could trigger the same disease.

The frontal lobe of a human brain is responsible for emotional control, problem-solving, behavior, and planning.

Frontotemporal dementia could also damage the temporal lobes which are located on both sides of the brain. It is an important part of the brain for recognizing faces and objects, interpretation of the words and dealing with the speech.

Frontotemporal dementia does not only harm language skills but also cause impairment in persona and behavior.

A person with Frontotemporal dementia may experience several mood swings which do not usually characterize that person. Their actions may totally be unpremeditated. They may feel apathetic towards the emotions of many people. In addition, they will lose their social reluctance and socializing.

It is common for the people to mistaken frontotemporal dementia with other types of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease as generally all of them show the same signs and symptoms.

In order to distinguish them better (Alzheimer’s disease and Frontotemporal dementia), researchers set out a team from the Brain and Spine Institute and the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, France. Their goal was to study how frontotemporal dementia could affect one’s moral emotions.

The first study author Marc Teichmann and his team say that “Moral emotions” describe “affective experiences promoting cooperation and group cohesion.” These moral emotions constitute of pity, admiration, and shame.

The findings of the research paper “Moral Emotions in Frontotemporal Dementia” was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on 4th June 2019.

How moral emotions in the patients were studied by the researchers?

Teichmann comments on their goal saying, “We have known for a long time that [FTD] patients demonstrate impairment of emotion recognition and theory of mind, i.e., the ability to figure out the mental states of others: what they think, what they feel, what they like…”

“But does this emotional blunting also affects a specific kind of emotions called moral emotions, which are crucial for human interactions?” questions the researcher. In order to study it, scientists planned out a questionnaire for understanding moral emotions.

The questionnaire contained 42 hypothetical events. The patients were asked to choose 1 of the 4 possible answers or reactions that the patient might draw out in a similar situation.

Regular emotions were differentiated from moral emotions by asking the patients to fill another 18 non-moral scenario questions in which the patient would show similar emotions (non-moral). For instance, a particular scenario may trigger moral sort for example generosity while in the non-moral situation he may admire that beautiful painting.

Teichmann and his team asked 22 people who had FTD, 15 people who had Alzheimer’s disease and 45 people who did not have any of these conditions to fill the questionnaire.

An advanced diagnostic tool for Frontal temporal dementia

After the analysis of the study, it was confirmed that frontotemporal dementia usually triggers emotions which are not characterized normally by that person. It was also discovered that Frontotemporal dementia affects moral emotions more than non-moral emotions.

People who had Alzheimer’s disease do not develop blunt emotions and thus, they performed in a similar way to those people who were healthy and did not have either FTD or Alzheimers disease. Researchers hope that further study could improve the diagnosis of frontal temporal dementia and would help the doctors to clearly differentiate between the two.

Marc Teichmann said: “Our findings confirm that emotions, in general, are impaired in FTD, and they reveal a particularly profound alteration of moral emotions.

He adds, “Our novel test tool appears to provide an early, sensitive, and specific marker for FTD diagnosis while reliably distinguishing FTD from Alzheimer’s disease patients. It could also be a marker for other diseases involving the breakdown of moral emotions as, for example, in the case of psychopathic individuals.”

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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