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Longitudinal Study of Cognitive Functioning in Friedreich's Ataxia

To date, the evolution of cognitive functioning in Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate the changes in the cognitive functioning of FRDA patients over an average eight-year timeframe. In addition, we aimed to study the relationship between cognitive changes and clinical variables. Twenty-nine FRDA patients who had been part of the sample of a previous study participated in the present study. The mean average time between the two assessments was 8.24 years. The participants completed an extensive battery of neuropsychological tests chosen to examine cognitive functioning in various cognitive domains: processing speed, attention, working memory, executive functions, verbal and visual memory, visuoperceptive and visuospatial skills, visuoconstructive functions and language. At follow-up, cerebellar symptoms had worsened, and patients presented greater disability. Differences between baseline and follow-up were observed in motor and cognitive reaction times, several trials of the Stroop test, semantic fluency, and block designs. No other cognitive changes were observed. Deterioration in simple cognitive reactions times and block designs performance correlated with the progression of cerebellar symptoms. This study has demonstrated for the first time that patients with FRDA experience a significant decline over time in several cognitive domains. Specifically, after an eight-year period, FRDA patients worsened in processing speed, fluency, and visuoconstructive skills. This progression is unlikely to be due to greater motor or speech impairment.

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