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Cognitive and Affective Empathy Disruption in Non-Fluent Primary Progressive Aphasia Syndromes

  • Jessica L. Hazelton (a1), Muireann Irish (a1) (a2) (a3), John R. Hodges (a1) (a2) (a4), Olivier Piguet (a1) (a2) (a4) and Fiona Kumfor (a1) (a2) (a4)...

Abstract

Empathy involves being able to understand and respond to others’ emotional experiences. Whilst deficits in empathy have been observed in frontotemporal dementia, the extent to which empathy is disrupted in dementia syndromes with predominant language impairment remains unclear. The current study investigated cognitive and affective empathy in the two non-fluent primary progressive aphasia syndromes: progressive non-fluent aphasia (PNFA) and logopenic progressive aphasia (LPA). Informants of 23 PNFA and 16 LPA patients completed the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), regarding patients’ capacity for empathy pre- and post-disease onset. Twenty-four healthy control participants completed the self-rated IRI for comparison of post-disease empathy capabilities. Within-group analyses revealed reduced cognitive empathy and increased personal distress in both patient groups. In addition, lowered affective empathy was reported in PNFA, with a similar trend observed in LPA. Interestingly, reduced affective empathy was associated with greater carer burden in LPA. Between-group analyses revealed reduced cognitive empathy in both patient groups relative to controls. The current study is the first to document empathy changes in PNFA and LPA, offering insight into the social cognitive deficits experienced in these syndromes. Future neuroimaging studies are needed to identify the underlying neural correlates and mechanisms driving empathy deficits in PNFA and LPA.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Dr Fiona Kumfor, Neuroscience Research Australia, P.O. Box 1165, Randwick, NSW 2031, Australia. Phone: +61 2 9399 1895. Email: f.kumfor@neura.edu.au

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