Cognitive functioning in young people with first episode psychosis: relationship to diagnosis and clinical characteristics

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Abstract

Objective

To examine the extent and nature of neuropsychological deficits in adolescents and young people with first episode psychosis (FEP), and to determine whether the pattern and extent of neuropsychological deficits varied according to diagnosis.

Method

A total of 83 FEP subjects aged 13–25 years, and 31 healthy controls completed a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests, grouped into 10 cognitive domains. First episode psychosis subjects were stratified into three diagnostic groups (schizophrenia, affective disorders, substance-induced psychosis) and differences in cognitive profiles were examined. The contribution of demographic and clinical characteristics to cognitive performance was also explored.

Results

The schizophrenia group demonstrated significantly worse performance on tasks of verbal learning and memory than the affective disorders group. Compared to healthy controls, the schizophrenia group also demonstrated global impairment across the majority of cognitive domains. The substance-induced group's performance lay between that of the schizophrenia and affective disorders groups. Analyses of differential deficits revealed that verbal learning, verbal memory and current intellectual functioning were selectively impaired in the schizophrenia group, whereas the affective disorders group demonstrated a selective deficit in speeded processing. Premorbid intellectual functioning, negative symptomatology and medication levels were the strongest predictors of cognitive performance in FEP subjects.

Conclusions

Verbal memory deficits differentiate individuals with schizophrenia from those with psychotic affective disorders. Although significant cognitive deficits are evident across all diagnostic FEP groups, individuals with schizophrenia appear to have more generalized impairment across a broad array of cognitive functions than other psychotic diagnoses. Lower premorbid intellectual functioning does not appear to contribute to greater cognitive deterioration following onset of psychosis, but severity of illness may be a more important factor than levels of mood disturbance.

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