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Cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease : is it a unified phenomenon?

Lowit, Anja and Howell, Peter and Brendel, Bettina (2005) Cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease : is it a unified phenomenon? Brain Impairment, 6 (3). pp. 191-204. ISSN 1443-9646

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Parkinson's disease (PD) has long been associated with dementia. This has been found to correlate with participant age, age at onset of PD and severity of PD. In addition, a large corpus of research points to the fact that participants with, as well as without, dementia can be impaired in a variety of cognitive tasks. Among these, set-shifting and dual-tasking skills have received particular focus. Most studies report that a reduction in attentional resources can lead to problems with these tasks. However, none have been able to determine exactly which systems are involved in these skills and which neurological impairments underlie the observed cognitive deficits. The current study set out to investigate how performance on tasks requiring set-shifting and dual tasking related to each other, as well as overall measures of cognition gained across a variety of tasks. Fifteen participants with PD and 12 control participants underwent screening tests for dementia, as well as specific tests to assess attention, set-shifting and dual tasking. The results indicate that set-shifting ability correlated well with other measures of cognitive performance, whereas dualtasking skills did not. This could suggest that set-shifting and dual tasking are not necessarily controlled by the same process, or that a particular process is involved to different degrees. In addition, many participants showed individual performance variations and dissociations between tasks that were not necessarily evident from the statistical analysis. This indicates that it can be difficult to make assumptions on overall cognitive performance from specific tasks and vice versa. This observation has implications for clinical practice as well as research methodology.