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Coronary artery bypass grafting has been associated with both early and late postoperative cognitive decline, but interpretation of previous studies has been limited by lack of appropriate control groups. We compared changes in cognitive performance from baseline to 3 years in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting with those of a control group of patients with known risk factors for coronary artery disease but without surgery.Patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting (n = 140) and a demographically similar nonsurgical control group with coronary artery disease (n = 92) completed baseline neuropsychological assessment and were followed up prospectively at 3, 12, and 36 months. Cognitive performance was assessed with a battery of neuropsychological tests, measuring the cognitive domains of attention, language, verbal and visual memory, visuospatial, executive function, and psychomotor and motor speed. The statistical analyses were performed in two ways: using data from all tested individuals, and using a model imputing missing observations for individuals lost to follow-up.Both the coronary artery bypass grafting and nonsurgical control groups improved from baseline to 1 year, with additional improvement between 1 and 3 years for some cognitive tests. The coronary artery bypass grafting group had statistically significantly greater improvement than the nonsurgical controls for some subtests, and had a comparable longitudinal course for the remainder of the subtests. Both study groups had a trend toward nonsignificant decline at 3 years on some measures, but the overall differences between groups over time were not statistically significant.Prospective longitudinal neuropsychological performance of patients with coronary artery bypass grafting did not differ from that of a comparable nonsurgical control group of patients with coronary artery disease at 1 or 3 years after baseline examination. This finding suggests that previously reported late cognitive decline after coronary artery bypass grafting may not be specific to the use of cardiopulmonary bypass, but may also occur in patients with similar risk factors for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.