Verbal and Figural Fluency in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: Does Hippocampal Sclerosis Affect Performance?

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Abstract

Background and Objectives:

Clinicians commonly use verbal and nonverbal measures to test fluency in patients with epilepsy, either during routine cognitive assessment or as part of pre- and postsurgical evaluation. We hypothesized that patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) with hippocampal sclerosis would perform worse than patients with lateral TLE in both verbal and design fluency.

Methods:

We assessed semantic, phonemic, and nonverbal fluency in 49 patients with TLE: 31 with lateral TLE and 18 with mesial TLE plus hippocampal sclerosis. We also gave non-fluency cognitive measures: psychomotor speed, attentional set shifting, selective attention, abstract reasoning, verbal and visual episodic memory, and incidental memory.

Results:

Patients with mesial TLE performed significantly worse on figural fluency than patients with lateral TLE. Even though group differences on verbal fluency measures were not significant, the patients with mesial TLE had a pattern of poorer performance. The patients with mesial TLE scored significantly worse on measures of selective attention, verbal episodic memory, and incidental memory.

Conclusions:

Our study underlines differences in cognitive function between patients with mesial and lateral TLE, particularly in figural fluency. Although we cannot directly assess the role of the hippocampus in cognitive aspects of creative and divergent thinking related to figural fluency, the cognitive discrepancies between these two TLE groups could be ascribed to the mesial TLE hippocampal pathology shown in our study and addressed in the literature on hippocampal involvement in divergent thinking. Our findings could benefit cognitive rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs of patients with TLE.

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