Objective: This follow-up study of the European Dexamethasone Study was designed to examine the potential harmful effect of adjunctive dexamethasone treatment on long-term neuropsychological outcome in adults with bacterial meningitis.
Methods: Neurological, audiological, and neuropsychological examinations were performed in adults who survived pneumococcal or meningococcal meningitis.
Results: Eighty-seven of 99 (88%) eligible patients were included in the follow-up study; 46 (53%) were treated with dexamethasone and 41 (47%) with placebo. Median time between meningitis and testing was 99 months. Neuropsychological evaluation showed no significant differences between patients treated with dexamethasone and placebo. The proportions of patients with persisting neurological sequelae or hearing loss were similar in the dexamethasone and placebo groups. The overall rate of cognitive dysfunction did not differ significantly between patients and control subjects; however, patients after pneumococcal meningitis had a higher rate of cognitive dysfunction (21 vs 6%; p = 0.05) and experienced more impairment of everyday functioning due to physical problems (p = 0.05) than those after meningococcal meningitis.
Interpretation: Treatment with adjunctive dexamethasone is not associated with an increased risk for long-term cognitive impairment. Adults who survive pneumococcal meningitis are at significant risk for long-term neuropsychological abnormalities.