Background: Positivity recognition bias has been reported for facial expression as well as memory and visual stimuli in aged individuals, whereas emotional facial recognition in Alzheimer disease (AD) patients is controversial, with possible involvement of confounding factors such as deficits in spatial processing of non-emotional facial features and in verbal processing to express emotions. Thus, we examined whether recognition of positive facial expressions was preserved in AD patients, by adapting a new method that eliminated the influences of these confounding factors.
Methods: Sensitivity of six basic facial expressions (happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, disgust, and fear) was evaluated in 12 outpatients with mild AD, 17 aged normal controls (ANC), and 25 young normal controls (YNC). To eliminate the factors related to non-emotional facial features, averaged faces were prepared as stimuli. To eliminate the factors related to verbal processing, the participants were required to match the images of stimulus and answer, avoiding the use of verbal labels.
Results: In recognition of happiness, there was no difference in sensitivity between YNC and ANC, and between ANC and AD patients. AD patients were less sensitive than ANC in recognition of sadness, surprise, and anger. ANC were less sensitive than YNC in recognition of surprise, anger, and disgust. Within the AD patient group, sensitivity of happiness was significantly higher than those of the other five expressions.
Conclusions: In AD patient, recognition of happiness was relatively preserved; recognition of happiness was most sensitive and was preserved against the influences of age and disease.