Impairments in face discrimination and emotion recognition are related to aging and cognitive dysfunctions in Parkinson’s disease with dementia

Patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) suffer from motor and non-motor symptoms; 40% would develop dementia (PD-D). Impaired face and emotion processing in PD has been reported; however, the deficits of face processing in PD-D remain unclear. We investigated three essential aspects of face processing capacity in PD-D, and the associations between cognitive, neuropsychiatric assessments and task performances. Twenty-four PD-D patients (mean age: 74.0 ± 5.55) and eighteen age-matched healthy controls (HC) (mean age: 71.0 ± 6.20) received three computerized tasks, morphing-face discriminationdynamic facial emotion recognition, and expression imitation. Compared to HC, PD-D patients had lower sensitivity (d’) and greater neural internal noises in discriminating faces; responded slower and had difficulties with negative emotions; imitated some expressions but with lower strength. Correlation analyses revealed that patients with advancing age, slow mentation, and poor cognition (but not motor symptoms) showed stronger deterioration in face perception. Importantly, these correlations were absent in the age-matched HC. The present study is among the first few examined face processing in patients with PD-D, and found consistent deficits correlated with advancing age and slow mentation. We propose that face discrimination task could be included as a potential test for the early detection of dementia in PD.

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