Objectives: Although previous research has shown that attentional dysfunction is common during acute mood episodes in individuals with bipolar disorder (BPD), few studies have examined whether attentional deficits are evident during periods of symptom stability. The goal of this study was to determine whether clinically stable individuals with BPD would have attentional disturbances relative to healthy subjects.
Methods: Fourteen patients with BPD and 12 healthy comparison subjects participated in the study, and were administered the Degraded Stimulus Continuous Performance Test (DSCPT), Digit Span Distractibility Test (DSDT) and Grooved Pegboard Test (GPT). Psychiatric symptoms were assessed with the Young Mania Rating Scale and the Scale for the Assessment of Positive Symptoms. Medication side effects were measured with the Simpson Rating Scale.
Results: The patient group responded significantly more slowly than the control group on the DSCPT (z=−2.52, p=0.01) and the GPT (z=−3.37, p=0.001). There was a trend towards the BPD patients demonstrating impaired perceptual sensitivity on the DSCPT (z=1.68, p=0.09). The two groups did not differ on the DSDT (z=−1.06, p=0.3). Poor performance on the GPT and DSCPT target reaction time were not associated with symptom ratings or medications.
Conclusion: The findings suggest that impairments in fine motor skills and reaction time may be present in clinically stable patients with BPD, even after accounting for psychiatric symptoms and medication effects. Performance decrements on attentional tasks may be in part reflective of motor impairments in patients with BPD.