Functional cognitive disorders: a systematic review

Lancet Psychiatry. 2020 Feb;7(2):191-207. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30405-5. Epub 2019 Nov 12.


Cognitive symptoms are common, and yet many who seek help for cognitive symptoms neither have, nor go on to develop, dementia. A proportion of these people are likely to have functional cognitive disorders, a subtype of functional neurological disorders, in which cognitive symptoms are present, associated with distress or disability, but caused by functional alterations rather than degenerative brain disease or another structural lesion. In this Review, we have systematically examined the prevalence and clinical associations of functional cognitive disorders, and related phenotypes, within the wider cognitive disorder literature. Around a quarter of patients presenting to memory clinics received diagnoses that might indicate the presence of functional cognitive disorders, which were associated with affective symptoms, negative self-evaluation, negative illness perceptions, non-progressive symptom trajectories, and linguistic and behavioural differences during clinical interactions. Those with functional cognitive disorder phenotypes are at risk of iatrogenic harm because of misdiagnosis or inaccurate prediction of future decline. Further research is imperative to improve diagnosis and identify effective treatments for functional cognitive disorders, and better understanding these phenotypes will also improve the specificity of diagnoses of prodromal degenerative brain disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / epidemiology
  • Affective Symptoms / physiopathology*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Medically Unexplained Symptoms*
  • Memory Disorders / epidemiology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology*