Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Cognitive performance in tests sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction in the elderly depressed

B. C. Beatsa1, B. J. Sahakiana1 c1 and R. Levya1

a1 Institute of Psychiatry, London; St Martin's Hospital, Canterbury; and Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge


The paper reports the profile of impairment across a variety of cognitive functions with special emphasis on tests sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction, in 24 elderly depressed patients during and on recovery from mood disorder, compared with 15 age- and sex-matched controls. Traditional neuropsychological tests and a recently developed battery of computerized tests (CANTAB) were used. Impairments were found in the depressed group compared to controls and to themselves on recovery across all domains examined. The depressed group showed deficits on visuospatial recognition memory, attentional shifting at the extra-dimensional shift stage and in measures of both processing and motor speed without impaired accuracy in a visual search task. Impairments were also found on a planning task with disproportionately increased numbers of moves needed for more difficult problems and evidence of both slowed motor response and increased processing time once the task was commenced.

Performance on recovery improved across all tasks. Comparisons were made with the performance of patients suffering from dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT) and Parkinson's disease on similar tests. Response latencies in test performance were found to correlate with the number of episodes of depression suffered and with ventricular size on CT scan, as measured by computerized planimetry. On recovery, residual depression scores correlated with latency of test performance and with ventricular brain ratio. The results, thus, show that depression in the elderly is associated with a significant degree of deficit on tests sensitive to frontostriatal dysfunction. Some of the deficits appear specific to depression and some do not remit following clinical recovery. However, these impairments have to be interpreted in the context of a broad profile of cognitive deficit.


c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Barbara J. Sahakian, Department of Psychiatry., University of Cambridge, School of Clinical Medicine., Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QQ.