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J Affect Disord. 2011 Aug;132(3):360-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2011.03.001. Epub 2011 Mar 25.

Identifying a cognitive impairment subgroup in adults with mood disorders.

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British Columbia Mental Health & Addiction Services, Canada.



We hypothesized that only a minority of patients with mood disorders have measurable cognitive impairment, and this minority drives the small-to-medium effect sizes detected in group studies. Removal of this minority from group statistical analyses will illustrate that the majority appear to have broadly normal cognitive functioning.


Participants were adults between the ages of 20 and 54, including 659 healthy control subjects, 84 unmedicated outpatients diagnosed with depression, 59 outpatients diagnosed with depression who were on medications at the time of the evaluation, and 43 outpatients with bipolar disorder. All completed the CNS Vital Signs computerized cognitive screening battery.


The prevalence rates of low cognitive test scores were calculated for the healthy control subjects and the patients with mood disorders. Having two scores at or below the 5th percentile occurred in 31.2% of the patients and only 8.2% of the control subjects [χ(2)(1)=66.67, p<.0001; Odds Ratio=5.1, 95% CI=3.4-7.7]. For the control subjects, this low false positive rate for cognitive impairment was maintained across age groups, sexes, and education levels. A larger proportion of patients with bipolar disorder (41.9%) than patients with depression (27.1-28.6%) met this criterion for cognitive impairment.


This study suggests that cognitive impairment associated with mood disorders is limited to a minority of patients with the majority being broadly cognitively normal. Future research should determine if this identified subgroup has neuroanatomical, neurophysiological, or neuroendocrine abnormalities. Cognitive screening tools of this type might be useful in selecting participants for studies.

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