Cognitive and affective Theory of Mind in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease

Authors


Correspondence should be addressed to Béatrice Desgranges, Laboratoire de Neuropsychologie Inserm–EPHE–UCBN U1077, CHU de CAEN F-14033, Caen, France (e-mail address: desgranges-b@chu-caen.fr).

Abstract

Theory of Mind (ToM) allows one's own and others' cognitive and emotional mental states to be inferred. Although many patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) display impaired social functioning as their disease progresses, very few studies have investigated ToM in AD. Those that have done so suggest that patients' ToM deficits are the consequence of other cognitive impairments. The aim of this study was thus to investigate changes in both the cognitive and the affective dimensions of ToM in AD, using tasks designed to circumvent the patients' comprehension difficulties. Sixteen mild to moderate AD patients and 15 healthy controls matched on age, sex and education level underwent cognitive (preference judgment and first- and second-order false belief) and affective (Reading the Mind in the Eyes) ToM assessments. Comprehension of false belief stories was verified and an additional neuropsychological examination was undergone. We observed impaired performances by AD patients on all the ToM tasks. While working memory and executive functioning impairments contributed to the deterioration in the more complex aspects of cognitive ToM abilities as highlighted by a correlation analysis, we failed to observe any comprehension difficulties in patients who performed poorly on simple cognitive ToM tasks, which suggests that AD truly affects cognitive ToM.

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