OBJECTIVES: Although bipolar disorder has been understood classically as a cyclic disease with full recovery between mood episodes, in the last decade, evidence has accumulated supporting progressive features. The clinical picture of advanced or end-stage bipolar disorder is heterogeneous with possible deficits in cognition and behavior, as illustrated by our case series.
CASES: From our neuropsychiatric outpatient clinic, we describe four cases with bipolar disorder gradually developing a clinical syndrome, including apathy, disinhibition, loss of empathy, stereotypical behavior, and compulsiveness, fulfilling the criteria for possible behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. All cases were diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder at least 10 years before the onset of the current symptoms, which were not due to recent mood episodes or switches of medication. In all cases, 3-7 years of follow-up yielded no progression. Repeated neuroimaging was within normal limits. Cerebrospinal fluid biomarker studies were not supportive of underlying neurodegenerative pathology. C9orf72 mutation status was negative in all cases.
CONCLUSION: Symptoms fitting the criteria for possible behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia may be present in end-stage of bipolar disorder. An alternative neurodegenerative nature seems unlikely based on repeated normal neuroimaging and the absence of clinical progression. Functional involvement of the frontal-subcortical networks might play a role.