Cognitive declines one year after unilateral deep brain stimulation surgery in Parkinson's disease: a controlled study using reliable change

Laura B Zahodne, Michael S Okun, Kelly D Foote, Hubert H Fernandez, Ramon L Rodriguez, Lindsey Kirsch-Darrow, Dawn Bowers
Clinical Neuropsychologist 2009, 23 (3): 385-405
Conflicting research suggests that deep brain stimulation surgery, an effective treatment for medication-refractory Parkinson's disease (PD), may lead to selective cognitive declines. We compared cognitive performance of 22 PD patients who underwent unilateral DBS to the GPi or STN to that of 19 PD controls at baseline and 12 months. We hypothesized that compared to PD controls, DBS patients would decline on tasks involving dorsolateral prefrontal cortex circuitry (letter fluency, semantic fluency, and Digit Span Backward) but not on other tasks (Vocabulary, Boston Naming Test), and that a greater proportion of DBS patients would fall below Reliable Change Indexes (RCIs). Compared to controls, DBS patients declined only on the fluency tasks. Analyses classified 50% of DBS patients as decliners, compared to 11% of controls. Decliners experienced less motor improvement than non-decliners. The present study adds to the literature through its hypothesis-driven method of task selection, inclusion of a disease control group, longer-term follow-up and use of Reliable Change. Our findings provide evidence that unilateral DBS surgery is associated with verbal fluency declines and indicate that while these changes may not be systematically related to age, cognitive or depression status at baseline, semantic fluency declines may be more common after left-sided surgery. Finally, use of Reliable Change highlights the impact of individual variability and indicates that fluency declines likely reflect significant changes in a subset of patients who demonstrate a poorer surgical outcome overall.

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