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Vol. 18, No. 1, 2004
Issue release date: June 2004
Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2004;18:75–79

Recognition of Facial Expressions of Emotion by Patients with Dementia of the Alzheimer Type

Burnham H. · Hogervorst E.
University of Oxford, Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA), Oxford, UK

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Bilateral amygdala damage has been linked with an inability to recognise facial expressions of emotion, particularly the expression of fear. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) suffer from atrophy of the amygdala at an early stage of the disease. It was therefore predicted that AD patients would have more difficulty in two tasks of processing facial expressions of emotion. Thirteen patients diagnosed with probable AD referred to the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA) and 13 age-matched controls enrolled in the programme participated in the study. Participants were shown two tasks, one involved recognising and labelling a target expression, the other matching a target expression with one of four others. The results showed that compared with the controls, the patients were not impaired in recognising any facial expressions of emotion in the labelling task, but were impaired in matching three facial expressions of emotion in the second task. It was speculated that the impairment in the matching task could have been a result of visuospatial dysfunction rather than one of processing emotions.

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