Cognitive impairments in patients with persistent symptoms attributed to Lyme disease

BMC Infect Dis. 2019 Oct 7;19(1):833. doi: 10.1186/s12879-019-4452-y.


Background: Persistent symptoms attributed to Lyme borreliosis often include self-reported cognitive impairment. However, it remains unclear whether these symptoms can be substantiated by objective cognitive testing.

Methods: For this observational study, cognitive performance was assessed in 280 adults with persistent symptoms attributed to Lyme borreliosis (as part of baseline data collected for the Dutch PLEASE study). Cognitive testing covered the five major domains: episodic memory, working memory / attention, verbal fluency, information-processing speed and executive function. Patients' profiles of test scores were compared to a large age-, education- and sex-adjusted normative sample using multivariate normative comparison. Performance validity was assessed to detect suboptimal effort, and questionnaires were administered to measure self-reported cognitive complaints, fatigue, anxiety, depressive symptoms and several other psychological factors.

Results: Of 280 patients, one was excluded as the test battery could not be completed. Of the remaining 279 patients, 239 (85.4%) displayed sufficient performance validity. Patients with insufficient performance validity felt significantly more helpless and physically fatigued, and less orientated. Furthermore, they had a lower education level and less often paid work. Of the total study cohort 5.7% (n = 16) performed in the impaired range. Among the 239 patients who displayed sufficient performance validity, 2.9% (n = 7) were classified as cognitively impaired. No association between subjective cognitive symptoms and objective impairment was found.

Conclusions: Only a small percentage of patients with borreliosis-attributed persistent symptoms have objective cognitive impairment. Performance validity should be taken into account in neuropsychological examinations of these patients. Self-report questionnaires are insufficiently valid to diagnose cognitive impairment.

Trial registration: NCT01207739 . Registered 23 September 2010.

Keywords: Borrelia; Cognition; Cognitive neuropsychology; Lyme disease.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Attention
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnosis*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Executive Function
  • Fatigue / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lyme Disease / complications*
  • Lyme Disease / psychology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Self Report

Associated data