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Empathy In Neurodegenerative Diseases: A Systematic Review

Authors Pick E, Kleinbub JR, Mannarini S, Palmieri A

Received 3 August 2019

Accepted for publication 31 October 2019

Published 22 November 2019 Volume 2019:15 Pages 3287—3304


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder

Emanuele Pick,1 Johann R Kleinbub,1 Stefania Mannarini,1,2 Arianna Palmieri1,3

1Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Education, and Applied Psychology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy; 2Interdepartmental Center for Family Research, University of Padova, Padova, Italy; 3Padova Neuroscience Center, University of Padova, Padova, Italy

Correspondence: Emanuele Pick
Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Education, and Applied Psychology, University of Padova, Via Venezia, 14, Padova 35131, Italy
Tel +39 049 8276696

Introduction: Empathy, in its affective and cognitive components, is a crucial interpersonal ability. It is broadly studied in the field of psychopathology, whereas its study in the neurodegenerative diseases is relatively recent. Existing literature, though, focused on a reduced subset of considered diseases, which often found a compromise in empathy abilities. Organized knowledge about a more comprehensive set of diseases is lacking.
Method: The present PRISMA systematic review was aimed at collecting the current available literature concerning empathic alterations in adult patients affected by neurodegenerative diseases. It considered the different empathy components, evaluated existing patterns, the impact on patients’ lives, and treatment considerations.
Results: Overall, the 32 retrieved studies describe a spread deterioration of empathic abilities in patients, with each disease displaying its own pattern of empathy functioning. Literature in this field is fragmented and of heterogeneous quality, and further studies are warranted to increase evidence of many preliminary results.
Discussion: In conclusion, we highlight the crucial importance of acknowledging empathy deficits in these diseases, showing their repercussion on both patients’ and caregivers’ quality of life, the establishment of a functional doctor–patient relationship, and the development of efficacious psychological intervention. These clinical approaches can be enriched by the knowledge of the spared abilities of patients affected by neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: neurodegenerative diseases, empathy, mentalizing, doctor-patient relationship, psychological intervention, quality of life

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