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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2000 Jun;68(6):731-7.

Group and case study of the dysexecutive syndrome in alcoholism without amnesia.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, UK.



To test the dysexecutive syndrome (DES) hypothesis of chronic alcoholism by the neuropsychological group and case study approaches.


A comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, including the "behavioural assessment of dysexecutive syndrome", a battery of tests recently designed to be "ecologically valid", was administered to 17 patients with chronic alcoholism without amnesia to examine executive functions, intelligence, and memory. In terms of each neuropsychological measure, reciprocal analyses of group means and individual case profiles were conducted: for the first contrasting the alcoholic patients with 17 age matched healthy subjects; and for the second making intersubject and intrasubject comparison of the patients, according to percentile basis impairment indices obtained from the control subjects.


Despite relatively unimpaired memory and intelligence, the patients as a whole had the impairment of a wide range of executive domains, extending to "everyday" problem solving as well as more elementary aspects of executive functions, such as visuospatial performance, mental set shifting, and the inhibition of habitual behaviour. The profile analysis divided individual patients into four groups: the representative DES characterised by a clear dissociation between impaired executive functions and preserved intelligence and memory; the group of a modified dysexecutive pattern in which memory as well as executive functions were impaired with intelligence preserved; the group of general cognitive deterioration; and the group of unimpaired cognitive functioning. About two thirds of the patients were categorised into either the first or the second type of DES.


DES characterised by the even more pronounced impairment of executive functions than of intelligence and memory afflicts a considerable proportion of patients with chronic alcoholism. Due to its subtlety, this would be potentially left out, unless appropriate behavioural measures were administered. This condition may prevent patients with alcoholism from achieving full recovery and benefiting from rehabilitation.

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