Groups of patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease, multiple system atrophy, and progressive supranuclear palsy or Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, matched for overall clinical disability, were compared using three computerised cognitive tests previously shown to be sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction. On a test of planning based on the Tower of London task, all three groups were impaired, but in different ways. The groups with palsy and Parkinson's disease were slower in the measure of initial thinking time, whereas the group with multiple system atrophy was only slower in a measure of thinking time subsequent to the first move, resembling patients with frontal lobe damage. On a test of spatial working memory, each group showed deficits relative to their matched control groups, but the three groups differed in their strategy for dealing with this task. On a test of attentional set shifting, each group was again impaired, mainly at the extradimensional shifting stage, but the group with Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome exhibited the greatest deficit. The results are compared with previous findings in patients with Alzheimer's disease or frontal lobe damage. It is concluded that these basal ganglia disorders share a distinctive pattern of cognitive deficits on tests of frontal lobe dysfunction, but there are differences in the exact nature of the impairments, in comparison not only with frontal lobe damage but also with one another.
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