Cognitive impairment in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Lancet Neurol. 2007 Nov;6(11):994-1003. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(07)70265-X.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a motor neuron disease that has sporadic and inherited forms. ALS is the most common neurodegenerative disorder of young and middle-aged adults, and few treatments are available. Although the degeneration predominantly affects the motor system, cognitive and behavioural symptoms have been described for over a century, and there is evidence that ALS and frontotemporal dementia overlap clinically, radiologically, pathologically, and genetically. Cognitive decline in ALS is characterised by personality change, irritability, obsessions, poor insight, and pervasive deficits in frontal executive tests. This presentation is consistent with the changes to character, social conduct, and executive function in frontotemporal dementia. We highlight genetic, imaging, and neuropathological evidence that non-motor systems are affected in ALS and explain the importance of recent discoveries. We review studies of cognitive impairment in ALS and common neuropsychological test results. We also provide advice about clinical assessment of frontotemporal dysfunction in patients with ALS, and suggest future research. Understanding of cognitive impairment in ALS will improve care for patients and their families and provide valuable insights into the pathogenesis of neurodegeneration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Dementia / etiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prevalence