Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society



Attention and verbal learning in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


VERONIQUE  MICHIELS a1c1, RAYMOND  CLUYDTS a1 and BENJAMIN  FISCHLER a2
a1 Department of Psychology, Free University of Brussels
a2 Department of Psychiatry, Free University of Brussels

Abstract

Former neuropsychological studies with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) patients evaluated a broad range of cognitive functions. Several, but not all, reported subtle attentional and memory impairments suggesting possible mild cerebral involvement. In this study, a battery of attentional tests and a verbal memory task were administered to 20 CFS patients and 22 healthy controls (HC) in order to clarify the specific nature of attention and memory impairment in these patients. The results provide evidence for attentional dysfunction in patients with CFS as compared to HC. CFS patients performed more poorly on a span test measuring attentional capacity and working memory. Speeded attentional tasks with a more complex element of memory scanning and divided attention seem to be a sensitive measure of reduced attentional capacity in these patients. Focused attention, defined as the ability to attend to a single stimulus while ignoring irrelevant stimuli, appears not to be impaired. CFS patients were poorer on recall of verbal information across learning trials, and poor performance on delayed recall may be due to poor initial learning and not only to a retrieval failure. (JINS, 1998, 4, 456–466.)

(Received October 16 1996)
(Revised October 31 1997)
(Accepted January 29 1998)


Key Words: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Attention; Verbal learning; Information processing.

Correspondence:
c1 Reprint requests to: Veronique Michiels, Free University of Brussels, Department of Psychology, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: vmichiel@vub.ac.be