Objective: Studies have shown variable memory performance in patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). Our study investigated whether this variability is due to the admixture of patients with true bvFTD and phenocopy patients. We also sought to compare performance of patients with bvFTD and patients with Alzheimer disease (AD).
Methods: We analyzed neuropsychological memory performance in patients with a clinical diagnosis of bvFTD divided into those who progressed (n = 50) and those who remained stable (n = 39), patients with AD (n = 64), and healthy controls (n = 64).
Results: Patients with progressive bvFTD were impaired on most memory tests to a similar level to that of patients with early AD. Findings from a subset of patients with progressive bvFTD with confirmed FTLD pathology (n = 10) corroborated these findings. By contrast, patients with phenocopy bvFTD performed significantly better than progressors and patients with AD. Logistic regression revealed that patients with bvFTD can be distinguished to a high degree (85%) on the immediate recall score of a word list learning test (Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test).
Conclusions: Our results provide evidence for an underlying memory deficit in "real" or progressive behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) similar to Alzheimer disease, though the groups differ in orientation scores, with patients with bvFTD being intact. Exclusion solely based on impaired neuropsychological memory performance can potentially lead to an underdiagnosis of FTD.