Impaired Emotion Recognition is Sign of Behavioral Symptoms in ALS, Study Finds

Impaired Emotion Recognition is Sign of Behavioral Symptoms in ALS, Study Finds

Difficulty in recognizing emotions may be a sign of changes in the frontal lobe of the brain and associated behavioral symptoms in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The study with that finding, “Deficits in Emotion Recognition as Markers of Frontal Behavioral Dysfunction in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis,” was published by The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

ALS is recognized mainly for its severe and progressive motor symptoms. But patients also experience non-motor symptoms, including cognitive and behavioral problems.

A previous study revealed that patients with ALS have difficulty reading emotions due to microscopic changes in the brain. However, it is not yet clear whether emotion recognition deficits in ALS can occur independently of specific cognitive and behavioral symptoms that overlap with frontotemporal dementia.

Behavior variant frontotemporal dementia is characterized by significant changes in personality, interpersonal relationships, and conduct due to progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes (the areas behind the forehead) or temporal lobes (the regions behind the ears).

A team led by Brazilian researchers investigated the possible association between recognition of facial emotions and frontal behavioral symptoms in ALS.

Twenty-one patients diagnosed with probable or definite sporadic ALS and 25 age- and sex-matched healthy volunteers were enrolled in the study.

Assessment revealed that most of the patients had some type of behavioral impairment, such as lack of motivation, changes in eating habits, or abnormal behavior. Moderate to very severe apathy was the most common neuropsychiatric syndrome, affecting 48% of the patients.

Patients also showed higher anxiety and depression scores; 43% and 33% had clinically relevant symptoms of anxiety and depression, respectively.

“Here we found that depressive or anxiety symptoms may overlap with apathy and other behavior variant frontotemporal dementia features in ALS,” researchers wrote.

In general, ALS patients showed similar scores compared to control on the Facial Emotion Recognition Test (FERT) and Ekman Faces Test. However, ALS patients had more difficulty recognizing sadness than did healthy controls. This was more noticeable in patients who had behavioral impairments.

“Taken together, these results suggest that deficits in emotion recognition co-occur with frontal behavioral symptoms in ALS,” they stated.

Still, the team did not find any correlation between FERT scores and patients’ mental status, anxiety or severity of depressive symptoms. This suggests that emotion recognition impairment in ALS “does not reflect either mood disorders or deficits in general cognition or executive functions,” the researchers said.



  1. I’m sure glad I didn’t get this particular set of symptoms! I was incredibly productive from the time of symptom onset to mow.

    I wrote 11 novels while maintaining a full time job and a girlfriend…

    Apathy would have made me miss a lot of life goals 🙁

  2. Nope says:

    What a waste. Of COURSE “apathy and motivation and emotional issues” arise in ALS. Do these researchers have the total inability to actually think what ALS dx does to an average person? To be told what we pALS are gonna go through, the hell we live after dx? I just hope they didn’t waste any substantial grant money on this crap. FIX IT already!

  3. Dave Reckonin says:

    Doc to Dave: “I’m sorry to tell you this, Dave, but you have ALS. It’s incurable, un-treatable and usually fatal within 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years…..Hey Dave ! You seem anxious and depressed!
    Why is that?”

  4. Christopher says:

    I’d like to think that my cup of tea (it used to be bourbon) is half full.
    But, what is considered ALS News Today (aka Comedy…because of much hilarity) is down right tragic! I truly believe that Laughter is the Best Medicine! I only look at this sight now for the comments, from human beings that I would love to sit and sip a bit of bourbon with, that make me laugh out loud! I don’t look at this site for any actual news or hope. All I see is a world of researchers that are like horses with blinders on and pharmaceutical companies lining their pockets with grant and Ice Bucket Challenge money. And the neurologist that diagnosed me, believes that rilutek/riluzole is the “gold standard” for the treatment of ALS. So thats the cherry on my crap sundae. I wish I had a harry potter wand. I would give a bunch of bad, greedy, nasty human beings ALS. That might sound cruel and not very “half full”. It’s called perspective. Then maybe ALS News would be news worthy!?
    Thanks for the Laughs Gents!

    • C. Murcia says:

      No kidding!
      This is a perfect example of irrelevant research!

      My husband´s doctor gave him an antidepressant from day 1, without the “benefit” of this study; he was aware of the need to support him emotionally. Except he did not explain the importance of taking it, so we did not bother with that. Shock was too big.
      Four months later, a Psychiatrist spoke to us about the importance of stabilizing his mood. He is now on a mild antidepressant Which has one wonders to keep him from losing his spirit. On that, he is able to continue working and fighting the disease.

  5. Guest says:

    Brazilians should dance samba or capoeira not wasting time in research. I understand that you want fill every day a news, but i hope fondiind nothing to read rather then shi t news like this one today.

  6. Bill says:

    What a waste. I have als and my dad had FTD dementia. You didn’t need a scientific facial recognition test to see his progression. You don’t need facial recognition to see my muscle atrophy. Someone suckered themselves some research money.

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