ALS patients may have problems recognizing emotions in others, study finds

Patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may have problems recognizing emotions in other people, even though they do not have other cognitive or behavioral problems. This inability is linked to microscopic changes in brain anatomy in regions linked to emotional processing, and resembles changes seen in patients with some types of frontotemporal dementia.

The study, “Microstructural Correlates of Emotional Attribution Impairment in Non-Demented Patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis,” published in the journal PLOS ONE,underscores that these changes support the notion that brain changes seen in ALS can be viewed as different levels along a continuum of changes linking ALS with frontotemporal dementia — another feared degenerative brain condition.

About half of all who develop ALS have symptoms not related to movement. These symptoms are also observed in the behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia. Some patients only have a few of these symptoms, while about 10 to 15 percent have the full range of symptoms known as the behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia syndrome, basically ALS and frontotemporal dementia at the same time.

Earlier studies have found that some disease mechanisms, both brain changes, and genetic factors also overlap between the two conditions. Many researchers believe the two diseases represent various manifestations of a disease spectrum.

The recognition of emotional states in others is a requirement for empathy, and earlier studies have shown that both ALS and frontotemporal dementia patients have changes in their brain anatomy visible to the naked eye. Researchers at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Italy now assessed whether ALS patients without dementia also had microscopic brain changes in key brain regions.

excerpt © 2016 ALS News Today. All rights reserved.