Recognizing Facial Expressions Impaired in Alzheimer's Disease

March 08, 2002

NEW YORK (MedscapeWire) March 11 — Misinterpreting facial expressions conveying underlying emotions may contribute to poor social adjustment and disruptive behaviors in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), according to a study reported in the Winter 2002 issue of the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

"Misreading emotions may be an aspect of the AD patient's inability to employ external and internal emotional cues to modify behavior and adjust self-perception," write Rita Hargrave, MD, from the University of California, Davis, and colleagues.

Compared with 14 healthy elderly controls and 10 elderly nondemented psychiatric outpatients, 22 AD patients were significantly impaired on tasks of facial emotion matching, facial emotion labeling, and same-different emotion differentiation. Recognizing sadness, surprise, and disgust were more impaired than recognition of happiness, fear, and anger.

Although AD patients were also impaired on a task of matching facial identity, their difficulty in processing facial emotions appeared to be independent of their difficulty in recognizing facial features not linked to emotional cues.

"AD patients may be more accurate in recognizing facial affect when they can integrate information about emotional cues from several modalities (eg, facial expressions, vocal intonations, and language) within the context of environmental cues," the authors write.

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD