Attention and executive functions in remitted major depression patients

Yvonne Paelecke-Habermann, Johannes Pohl, Bernd Leplow
Journal of Affective Disorders 2005, 89 (1): 125-35

BACKGROUND: Although deficits in attention and executive functions in patients with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) are well confirmed [Veiel, H.O.F., 1997. A preliminary profile of neuropsychological deficits associated with major depression. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology 19, 587-603.]. The database regarding the relationship between impairments and the duration of disease or the number of episodes is inconsistent. Furthermore, the role of long-term cognitive impairments in MDD during remitted state is not well understood [Elliott, R., 2002. The neuropsychological profile in primary depression. Taylor and Francis, London, pp. 273-293.]. There is consequently a lack of studies accounting for different courses of illness in the euthymic state and considering the influence of possible attentional deficits on executive performance.

METHODS: 40 euthymic patients with MDD diagnosis according to DSM-IV (20 patients with 1-2 episodes and 20 severe depressives with at least three episodes) as well as 20 healthy controls matched for education and age were administered three tests for attention (attentional shift, Stroop task, sustained attention) and three for executive functions (BADS, word fluency, memory span). The methods selected were theory based with regard to an involvement of frontal-subcortical networks in MDD, attention, and executive functions, respectively.

RESULTS: Euthymic patients with MDD showed deficits in all tests related to attentional and executive functions compared to healthy controls. The patient groups did not differ with regard to attentional performance. Executive functions in severe depressives were more impaired than in mild depressives.

LIMITATIONS: Differing performances of the patient groups in the subtests of the executive test battery (BADS) can only be interpreted to a limited extent.

CONCLUSIONS: The results support the assumption that deficits in attention and executive functions in MDD show an increase in trait character and executive function during chronic course. Implications for differential diagnosis and cognitive psychotherapy are discussed.

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