Background Although cognitive deficits in bipolar disorder have been associated with diminished functional outcome, this relationship has been studied primarily through cross-sectional designs, and has not been studied in patients early in the course of illness. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of cognitive functioning on longitudinal 6-month functional and clinical outcome in recently diagnosed clinically stable patients with bipolar disorder. Method A total of 53 recently diagnosed patients with DSM-IV bipolar disorder type I were assessed within 3 months of their first manic episode using a neuropsychological battery measuring verbal/pre-morbid intellectual functioning, learning/memory, spatial/non-verbal reasoning, attention/processing speed and executive function. Functional outcome was assessed at baseline and 6 months using the Multidimensional Scale of Independent Functioning (MSIF) and DSM-IV Global Assessment of Functioning Scale (GAF). Clinical outcome was assessed with symptom ratings and by monitoring onset of new mood episodes. Results Memory, particularly verbal learning/memory, was robustly associated with 6-month functional outcome on the MSIF, even after partialling out the influence of mood symptoms and substance abu se co-morbidity. Depression ratings at 6 months, but not cognitive variables, were associated with 6-month GAF scores. Cognitive functioning was not associated with 6-month clinical outcome. Conclusions Memory was associated with 6-month longitudinal functional but not clinical outcome in recently diagnosed patients with bipolar disorder. These data further support the distinction between clinical and functional outcome, and emphasize the need for identification of, and development of treatments for, cognitive impairments early in the course of bipolar disorder. © Cambridge University Press 2010.
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