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Original Contribution
March 2006

An Observational Study of Cognitive Impairment in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Neurology (Drs Rippon, Scarmeas, Gordon, Mitsumoto, Marder, and Rowland), Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center (Drs Rippon, Scarmeas, Murphy, Albert, Marder, and Stern), Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain (Drs Rippon, Scarmeas, Murphy, Albert, Marder, and Stern), Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Research Center (Drs Gordon, Albert, Mitsumoto, and Rowland), and Department of Psychiatry (Drs Marder and Stern), Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY.

Arch Neurol. 2006;63(3):345-352. doi:10.1001/archneur.63.3.345

Background  Cognitive impairment is increasingly recognized in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Clinical and pathologic features overlap in frontotemporal lobar dementia and ALS. Demographics, respiratory status, bulbar site of onset, and disease severity are potential risk factors for cognitive impairment in ALS.

Objectives  To further delineate the frequency, nature, and implications of cognitive impairment in ALS and to assess previously identified risk factors.

Design  Case-control and retrospective cohort study.

Setting  Academic referral center.

Participants  Forty consecutive patients with ALS underwent baseline neurologic and neuropsychologic examinations. Cognitive test performance was compared in patients with ALS and matched controls. An exploratory analysis of the relationship between cognitive performance and ALS survival was performed.

Main Outcome Measures  Neuropsychologic test performance, ALS severity, and survival.

Results  Twelve patients (30%) showed evidence of cognitive impairment, including 9 (23%) who met the neuropsychologic criteria for dementia. No statistically significant differences were found between demented and nondemented ALS groups regarding demographics, family history, site of onset, bulbar dysfunction, or ALS severity. Only 1 patient with dementia had bulbar-onset disease. An association was observed between increasing ALS severity and declining verbal fluency performance. Demented patients with ALS showed predominant impairment in free recall, executive function, and naming, with relative preservation of attention, psychomotor speed, and visuospatial function. No association was observed between cognition and survival, controlling for ALS severity.

Conclusions  Nearly a third of the patients with ALS showed evidence of cognitive impairment in a pattern consistent with frontotemporal lobar dementia. Cognitive performance was not related to site of onset or survival.