Study shows why some dementia patients lack empathy

… a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease may give comfort to carers who have borne the brunt of these changes. It indicates that the changes result from fading grey matter in the region of the brain that governs empathy.

Researchers from Neuroscience Research Australia investigated 71 individuals including 25 with Alzheimer’s, 24 with bvFTD and 22 healthy older control participants through cognitive assessments, carer interviews and neuroimaging.

Both the experimental groups had reduced capacity to understand and appreciate the emotions of others, known as cognitive empathy. But the bvFTD patients were significantly more impaired when it came to sharing the emotions and emotional experiences of others – or affective empathy.

The impairment in cognitive empathy among the Alzheimer’s group was found to be a consequence of their overall cognitive decline, rather than an impairment in empathy per se.


Harriet Alexander