Objective: To evaluate fibromyalgia (FM) patients for the presence of cognitive deficits and to test the hypothesis that abnormalities would fit a model of cognitive aging.
Methods: We studied 3 groups of patients: FM patients without concomitant depression and in the absence of medications known to affect cognitive function (n = 23), age- and education-matched controls (n = 23), and education-matched older controls who were individually matched to be 20 years older (+/- 3 years) than the FM patients (n = 22). We measured speed of information processing, working memory function, free recall, recognition memory, verbal fluency, and vocabulary. We correlated performance on cognitive tasks with FM symptoms, including depression, anxiety, pain, and fatigue. We also determined if memory complaints were correlated with cognitive performance.
Results: As expected, older controls performed more poorly than younger controls on speed of processing, working memory, free recall, and verbal fluency. FM patients performed more poorly than age-matched controls on all measures, with the exception of processing speed. FM patients performed much like older controls, except that they showed better speed of processing and poorer vocabulary. Impaired cognitive performance in FM patients correlated with pain complaints, but not with depressive or anxiety symptoms. FM patients reported more memory problems than did the older and younger controls, and these complaints correlated with poor cognitive performance.
Conclusion: Cognitive impairment in FM patients, particularly memory and vocabulary deficits, are documented in the study. Nevertheless, the intact performance on measures of information processing speed suggests that the cognitive deficits are not global. FM patients' complaints about their memory are likely to be legitimate, since their memory function is not age appropriate.