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Personality and Neuropsychological Profiles in Friedreich Ataxia

Friedreich ataxia, an autosomal recessive mitochondrial disease, is the most frequent inherited ataxia. Many studies have attempted to identify cognitive and affective changes associated with the disease, but conflicting results have been obtained, depending on the tests used and because many of the samples studied were very small. We investigated personality and neuropsychological characteristics in a cohort of 47 patients with genetically confirmed disease. The neuropsychological battery assessed multiple cognition domains: processing speed, attention, working memory, executive functions, verbal memory, vocabulary, visual reasoning, emotional recognition, and social cognition. Personality was assessed with the Temperament and Character Inventory, and depressive symptoms were assessed with the Beck Depression Inventory. We found deficits of sustained attention, processing speed, semantic capacities, and verbal fluency only partly attributable to motor deficit or depressed mood. Visual reasoning, memory, and learning were preserved. Emotional processes and social cognition were unimpaired. We also detected a change in automatic processes, such as reading. Personality traits were characterized by high persistence and low self-transcendence. The mild cognitive impairment observed may be a developmental rather than degenerative problem, due to early cerebellum dysfunction, with the impairment of cognitive and emotional processing. Disease manifestations at crucial times for personality development may also have an important impact on personality traits.

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About the Author

Jen Farmer

Jen Farmer

Executive Director

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