Objective and method: This study compared 32 consecutively admitted first-episode schizophreniform patients, 26 patients with chronic schizophrenia according to the DSM-III-R criteria, and 25 normal comparison subjects on a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests to determine the degree of cognitive impairment existing at the onset of schizophrenic illness. Patients were tested within 2 weeks of admission to the hospital, after their medication had been stabilized.
Results: With age and education controlled, the first-episode and chronic patients performed significantly worse than the normal subjects on neuropsychological summary measures of executive function, verbal memory, spatial memory, concentration/speed, and global cognitive function and on left and right hemisphere function scales. The first-episode patients were as cognitively impaired as the chronic patients on all summary scales and many of the individual tests. Both groups showed relatively greater left than right hemisphere dysfunction.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that substantial cognitive deficits, comparable to those of chronic patients, are present early in the course of psychotic illness.