Cognitive reserve in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): a population-based longitudinal study

Background

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is often associated with cognitive and/or behavioural impairment. Cognitive reserve (CR) may play a protective role in offsetting cognitive impairment. This study examined the relationship between CR and longitudinal change in cognition in an Irish ALS cohort.

Methods

Longitudinal neuropsychological assessment was carried out on 189 patients over 16 months using the Edinburgh cognitive and behavioural ALS screen (ECAS) and an additional battery of neuropsychological tests. CR was measured by combining education, occupation and physical activity data. Joint longitudinal and time-to-event models were fitted to investigate the associations between CR, performance at baseline and decline over time while controlling for non-random drop-out.

Results

CR was a significant predictor of baseline neuropsychological performance, with high CR patients performing better than those with medium or low CR. Better cognitive performance in high CR individuals was maintained longitudinally for ECAS, social cognition, executive functioning and confrontational naming. Patients displayed little cognitive decline over the course of the study, despite controlling for non-random drop-out.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that CR plays a role in the presentation of cognitive impairment at diagnosis but is not protective against cognitive decline. However, further research is needed to examine the interaction between CR and other objective correlates of cognitive impairment in ALS.

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