Planning and spatial working memory in Parkinson's disease.
The higher level cognitive function of planning was studied in a group of medicated Parkinson's disease patients and a group of matched control subjects, using a computerised version of Shallice's Tower of London task. Baseline measurement of the ability to execute a given plan of action, to generate low level strategies required for efficient searching, and spatial working memory capacity, all of which contribute to performance on the planning task, established that the Parkinson's disease group was unimpaired on any of these measures. On the Tower of London task, the Parkinson's disease group was also unimpaired in terms of the average number of moves required to solve a problem. However, a specific planning deficit was evident when "thinking" times were analysed, and this was after the confounding influence of motor initiation and execution times had been carefully extracted from total performance times. This finding is discussed in relation to putative functions of the frontal lobes and basal ganglia, and an attention-switching hypothesis is developed to account for it.