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J Neurol. 2006 Jul;253(7):935-41. Epub 2006 Mar 6.

Prevalence of primitive reflexes and the relationship with cognitive change in healthy adults: a report from the Maastricht Aging Study.

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Brain and Behaviour Institute Maastricht University, Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, 616, 6200, MD Maastricht, The Netherlands.



Primitive reflexes (PR) generally disappear early in life but may reappear later, in which case they are often associated with chronic neurological conditions, such as dementia or Parkinson's disease. Studies have shown that the presence of PRs may be indicative of both the severity and rate of progression of these diseases and may be the result of disinhibition of cortical networks. The association between PRs and cognitive function in usual ageing is unclear. We investigated whether the occurrence, amplitude, and persistence of four nociceptive (glabbelar tap, palmomental, pollicomental, and snout reflexes), three prehensile reflexes (suck, palmar grasp, and rooting), and two other reflexes (mouth open finger-spread and nuchocephalic reflexes) were related to performance in specific cognitive domains in normal ageing individuals.


Four-hundred and seventy normal aging participants (25-82 years) in the Maastricht Aging Study (MAAS), were included in the study. They were neurologically and cognitively screened at baseline and were retested after 3 (only individuals aged 50 years and older at baseline) and 6 years.


The prevalence of most PRs increased with age: 47% of men aged 25-45 years had at least one PR, compared with 73% of men aged 65-85 year (p = 0.002). In women these percentages were 51 and 75, respectively (p=0.008). The prevalence, amplitude, and persistence of PRs were unrelated to cognition at baseline or at the 3- or 6-year follow-up.


The prevalence of particularly nociceptive reflexes rises substantially with increasing age in normal individuals. However, the presence of PRs cannot be considered to be a marker of cognitive decline in normal aging individuals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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