Observing conversational laughter in frontotemporal dementia

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Abstract

Background

We performed an observational study of laughter during seminaturalistic conversations between patients with dementia and familial caregivers. Patients were diagnosed with (1) behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), (2) right temporal variant frontotemporal dementia (rtFTD), (3) semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia (svPPA), (4) non-fluent variant primary progressive aphasia (nfvPPA) or (5) early onset Alzheimer’s disease (eoAD). We hypothesised that those with bvFTD would laugh less in response to their own speech than other dementia groups or controls, while those with rtFTD would laugh less regardless of who was speaking.

Methods

Patients with bvFTD (n=39), svPPA (n=19), rtFTD (n=14), nfvPPA (n=16), eoAD (n=17) and healthy controls (n=156) were recorded (video and audio) while discussing a problem in their relationship with a healthy control companion. Using the audio track only, laughs were identified by trained coders and then further classed by an automated algorithm as occurring during or shortly after the participant’s own vocalisation ('self' context) or during or shortly after the partner’s vocalisation ('partner' context).

Results

Individuals with bvFTD, eoAD or rtFTD laughed less across both contexts of self and partner than the other groups. Those with bvFTD laughed less relative to their own speech comparedwith healthy controls. Those with nfvPPA laughed more in the partner context compared with healthy controls.

Conclusions

Laughter in response to one’s own vocalisations or those of a conversational partner may be a clinically useful measure in dementia diagnosis.

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