OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence and correlates of neuropsychological impairment in a large cohort (n = 146) of patients with typical, sporadic (non-familial) amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. METHODS: A battery of neuropsychological tests was administered to patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis who were attending a monthly outpatient clinic or who were in hospital undergoing diagnostic tests. RESULTS: Comparing individual patient's scores with relevant normative data, 35.6% of the patients displayed evidence of clinically significant impairment, performing at or below the 5th percentile on at least two of the eight neuropsychological measures. Deficits were most common in the areas of problem solving, attention/mental control, continuous visual recognition memory, word generation, and verbal free recall. Impairment was most prevalent in patients with dysarthria (48.5%), but 27.4% of non-dysarthric patients were also impaired. Impaired patients had more severe or widespread symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis than non-impaired patients, and had fewer years of education. CONCLUSION: Neither the conventional wisdom that cognition is intact in nearly all patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, nor more recent suggestions that cognition is often at least mildly impaired seems to be correct. A minority of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis displayed evidence of significant impairment. Dysarthria, low education, and greater severity of motor symptoms were risk factors for impairment.
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