Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Symposia

Cognitive impairment and functioning in PTSD related to intimate partner violence

ELIZABETH W. TWAMLEYa1a2a3 c1, CAROLYN B. ALLARDa1a3, STEVEN R. THORPa1a2a4, SONYA B. NORMANa1a2a3, SHADHA HAMI CISSELLa1a4, KELLY HUGHES BERARDIa3, ERIN M. GRIMESa1a4 and MURRAY B. STEINa1a5a6

a1 Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California

a2 Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health, VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California

a3 Psychology Service, VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California

a4 Research Service, VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California

a5 Psychiatry Service, VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California

a6 Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California

Abstract

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been associated with neuropsychological impairments across multiple domains, but consensus regarding the cognitive profile of PTSD has not been reached. In this study of women with PTSD related to intimate partner violence (n = 55) and healthy, demographically similar comparison participants (NCs; n = 20), we attempted to control for many potential confounds in PTSD samples. All participants were assessed with a comprehensive neuropsychological battery emphasizing executive functioning, including inhibition, switching, and abstraction. NCs outperformed PTSD participants on most neuropsychological measures, but the differences were significant only on speeded tasks (with and without executive functioning components). The PTSD group’s mean performance was within the average range on all neuropsychological tests. Within the PTSD group, more severe PTSD symptoms were associated with slower processing speed, and more severe dissociative symptoms were associated with poorer reasoning performance. These results suggest that women with PTSD related to intimate partner violence demonstrate slower than normal processing speed, which is associated with the severity of psychiatric symptoms. We speculate that the cognitive slowing seen in PTSD may be attributable to reduced attention due to a need to allocate resources to cope with psychological distress or unpleasant internal experiences. (JINS, 2009, 15, 879–887.)

(Received December 23 2008)

(Reviewed June 16 2009)

(Accepted June 16 2009)

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Elizabeth W. Twamley, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, 140 Arbor Drive (0851), San Diego, CA 92103. E-mail: etwamley@ucsd.edu

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