Objective: Whether cognitive function in schizophrenia deteriorates, improves, or remains stable is a crucial question. Few studies have examined the longitudinal stability of cognitive function and the relationship between cognitive performance and clinical symptoms over time in a cohort of well-treated patients with schizophrenia.
Method: In the present study, 54 patients with first-episode and recent-onset schizophrenia completed a comprehensive cognitive test battery and were rated on symptom measures at index hospitalization and again after 5 years.
Results: Performance IQ and full-scale IQ significantly improved, whereas verbal IQ did not change. Group performance improved on some of the neuropsychological tests, including the Circle A letter-cancellation task, free recall of logical memory test score, and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. Mean finger-tapping performance worsened over time, whereas performance on other neuropsychological tests did not change. Negative, psychotic, and disorganized symptoms significantly improved over the time period. Changes in negative symptoms were correlated with performance changes in verbal IQ and full-scale IQ but not performance IQ. Improvement in verbal cognition was observed when negative symptoms improved. Psychotic and disorganized symptom dimensions were not correlated with any IQ measure.
Conclusions: These results indicate that in a cohort of young patients receiving neuroleptic treatment early in their illness, cognitive performance does not deteriorate--and may improve. Only one of the three symptom dimensions--negative--was associated with change in cognitive performance. This study supports the view that negative symptoms are associated with a poor long-term cognitive outcome and may be closely related to the primary cognitive deficit in schizophrenia.