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Neuropsychological Testing in Pathologically Verified Alzheimer Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia

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Differences in cognition between frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Alzheimer disease (AD) are well described in clinical cohorts, but have rarely been confirmed in studies with pathologic verification. For emerging therapeutics to succeed, determining underlying pathology early in the disease course is increasingly important. Neuropsychological evaluation is an important component of the diagnostic workup for AD and FTD. Patients with FTD are thought to have greater deficits in language and executive function while patients with AD are more likely to have deficits in memory.


To determine if performance on initial cognitive testing can reliably distinguish between patients with frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and AD neuropathology. In addition, are there other factors of the neuropsychological assessment that can be used to enhance the accuracy of underlying pathology?


Using a logistic regression we retrospectively compared neurocognitive performance on initial evaluation of 106 patients with pathologically verified FTLD (pvFTLD), with 558 pathologically verified AD (pvAD) patients from the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center using data from the Uniform Data Set (UDS) and the neuropathology data set.


As expected, pvFTLD patients were younger, demonstrated better memory performance, and had more neuropsychiatric symptoms than pvAD patients. Other results were less predictable: pvFTLD patients performed better on one test of executive function (trail making test part B) but worse on another (digit span backward). Performance on language testing did not strongly distinguish the 2 groups. To determine what factors led to a misdiagnosis of AD in patients with FTLD, we further analyzed a small group of pvFTLD patients. These patients demonstrated older age and lower Neuropsychiatric Inventory Questionnaire counts compared with accurately diagnosed cases.


Other than memory, numerical scores of neurocognitive performance on the UDS are of limited value in differentiating FTLD from AD at the initial visit. These results highlight the difficulty of obtaining an accurate early diagnosis of FTLD and argue for adding supplemental tests to those included in the UDS to assess cognition in FTD and AD patients.
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Keywords: Alzheimer disease; frontotemporal dementia; neuropsychiatric symptoms; neuropsychology; pathology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, NV

Publication date: July 1, 2017

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