Cognitive impairment, behavioral impairment, depression, and wish to die in an ALS cohort

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To evaluate relationships among cognitive, behavioral, and psychiatric/psychosocial measures assessed in a multicenter cohort of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


Recently diagnosed patients with definite or probable ALS diagnosis were administered 7 standardized psychiatric/psychosocial measures, including the Patient Health Questionnaire for diagnosis of depression and elicitation of wish to die. The Cognitive Behavioral Screen was used to classify both cognitive and behavioral impairment (emotional-interpersonal function). An ALS version of the Frontal Behavioral Inventory and Mini-Mental State Examination were also administered.


Of 247 patients included, 79 patients (32%) had neither cognitive nor behavioral impairment, 100 (40%) had cognitive impairment, 23 (9%) had behavioral impairment, and 45 (18%) had comorbid cognitive and behavioral decline. Cognitive impairment, when present, was in the mild range for 90% and severe for 10%. Thirty-one patients (12%) had a major or minor depressive disorder (DSM-IV criteria). Cognitive impairment was unrelated to all psychiatric/psychosocial measures. In contrast, patients with behavioral impairment reported more depressive symptoms, greater hopelessness, negative mood, and more negative feedback from spouse or caregiver. A wish to die was unrelated to either cognitive or behavioral impairment.


While we found no association between cognitive impairment and depression or any measure of distress, behavioral impairment was strongly associated with depressive symptoms and diagnoses although seldom addressed by clinicians. Thoughts about ending life were unrelated to either cognitive or behavioral changes, a finding useful to consider in the context of policy debate about physician-assisted death.

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