According to a recent study conducted by Colin A. Depp of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, the presence or severity of manic and depressive symptoms does not influence the level of cognitive impairment in individuals with bipolar. Existing research has indicated that nearly half of the individuals with bipolar (BD) have some type of cognitive functioning deficiency compared with nonbipolar comparison (NC) individuals. Some research has even shown that BD results in more significant cognitive impairment than schizophrenia or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), two conditions that also have symptom variability. Fluctuating symptoms is one trait of bipolar, with affect ranging from very high and euphoric to very low and depressive. Although previous studies have looked at how the presence of symptoms affects cognitive impairment, few studies have included a range of severity and fewer still have analyzed these symptoms with relation to impairment over an extended period of time.
For his study, Depp assessed the cognitive function of 49 NC individuals and 42 individuals with BD at four different times over a 6-month period. He also measured the severity of manic and depressive symptoms throughout the study. Depp discovered that although the BD participants performed far worse than the NC participants at each time point, their cognitive performance did improve with each subsequent assessment. Depp believes this was the result of practice and repeated exposure to the experiments.
The most significant finding was that the severity of symptoms did not influence the level of cognitive impairment. An increase of manic or depressive symptoms did result in a decline in cognitive functioning, and a stability of affect did not directly influence an increase in cognitive performance, although this small sample of participants may not accurately represent the larger population of individuals with bipolar. “Nonetheless, our findings suggest that fluctuations in symptoms at the level characteristic of ongoing out-patient status do not affect cognitive functioning,” said Depp. This new information could motivate researchers to include individuals with all levels of symptoms severity for future studies on cognitive functioning.
Depp, C. A., Savla, G. N., Vergel De Dios, L. A., Mausbach, B. T., Palmer, B. W. (2012). Affective symptoms and intra-individual variability in the short-term course of cognitive functioning in bipolar disorder. Psychological Medicine, 42.7, 1409-1416.
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