Functional Cognitive Disorder: A Common Cause of Subjective Cognitive Symptoms

Catherine M Pennington, Amrit Hayre, Margaret Newson, Elizabeth Coulthard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Patients frequently present to the memory clinic with self-reported cognitive symptoms that cannot be attributed to structural, toxic, or metabolic causes, and are out of keeping with their performance on neuropsychological assessment. This can be considered to be Functional (psychosomatic) Cognitive Disorder, which results in significant patient distress and often has a major impact on social functioning and employment. We performed a retrospective analysis of the Bristol ReMemBr group cognitive clinic database to ascertain the prevalence of Functional Cognitive Disorder, review the patient characteristics, and develop new guidelines for diagnosis and management. 196 patients were screened of whom 23 were diagnosed with Functional Cognitive Disorder; the oldest patient with this diagnosis was aged 60 years at symptom onset. When considering only those presenting below the age of 60 years (total no. held on database = 69), a third were diagnosed with Functional Cognitive Disorder. On neuropsychological testing, 47% had an atypical (invalid) pattern of results, or failed tests of performance validity. Of those with valid neuropsychological results, 80% scored in the normal range. Depression and anxiety were common but did not appear to be the primary cause of cognitive symptoms. Particular characteristics seen were excessively low self-rating of memory ability, and discrepancies between perceived and actual cognitive performance. The rate of unemployment was high, often due to the cognitive symptomatology. This is an important disorder to address, being common in working adults, and carrying a risk of misdiagnosis as early neurodegeneration, with subsequent inappropriate treatment and inclusion in clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sep 2015


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