Researching a differential impairment of frontal functions and explicit memory in early Parkinson's disease

E. Farina, G. Gattellaro, S. Pomati, E. Magni, A. Perretti, A. P. Cannatà, P. Nichelli, C. Mariani

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An impairment at tasks sensitive to frontal lobe damage has been repeatedly reported in Parkinson's disease, but the exact nature of these deficits has not yet been clarified. Similarly, deficits of visuo-spatial functions have been frequently observed, but it is still debated whether verbal and visuo-spatial memory can be differentially affected. In this study we have compared the performance of 20 mild Parkinson's disease patients (I-II Hoehn and Yahr stage) and 18 matched normal controls, at tasks assessing frontal functions and explicit memory. We detected a selective deficit in set shifting and maintaining, without impairment in categorization and set formation. The lack of a selective increase in perseverative errors might indicate that perseverations either measure something different from set shifting or that they do not represent an index sensitive enough to set shifting impairment. Parkinson's disease patients were also significantly impaired at Raven's Progressive Matrices, a task assessing both frontal and visuo-spatial aspects. However, they did not show any differential impairment of visuo-spatial memory. Indeed, despite a trend of lower performance in visuo-spatial learning, memory performance of Parkinson's disease patients was significantly different from that of controls only at a free recall test which involved both verbal and visuo-spatial memory. We suggest the exploration of set shifting and maintaining to detect 'frontal' deficits in mild Parkinson's disease. We argue that Raven's Progressive Matrices is a valuable task for detecting subclinical cognitive deficits in Parkinson's disease, even if it does not show a specific profile of impairment in these patients. According to our results, a differential evaluation of verbal vs. visuo-spatial memory is not necessary in clinical practice, whilst free recall confirms its usefulness to detect subclinical impairments of memory functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-267
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Neurology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Explicit memory
  • Frontal functions
  • Parkinson's disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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