Psychological Science Faculty Publications and Presentations

Self-reported anterograde memory loss in older persons that is not validated on neuropsychological assessment: Considerations for a dissociative diagnosis

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The past decade has witnessed amplified public awareness of age-related dementias. This has resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of older persons referred to memory clinics with a primary complaint of self-reported memory loss without an antecedent neurological event (e.g., stroke) who produce neuropsychological test profiles that lack evidence of such impairment. Since the latter part of the 19th century, a confusing array of changing terminology, criteria, and perceived causation have been ascribed to patients with unverified medical symptoms to implicate psychological causation. Such terms are often misperceived by laypersons as reflecting character flaws or malingering. Of import for clinical neuropsychologists, the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases added cognitive to symptoms eligible for a diagnosis of the modern formulation, dissociative neurological symptom disorder. One dissociative option for referrals with self-reported neurocognitive symptoms not validated on neuropsychological testing is functional memory disorder, conceived as a psychological disorder where emotional distress is plausibly related to the perceived memory loss but is of less severity than would warrant a major depressive or anxiety diagnosis. If evidence of psychological distress or behavioral impairment is not present the referral likely reflects the increased public awareness of age-related dementias interacting with the high base rate of self-perceived memory loss in the general population. In such cases, a dissociative diagnosis should be avoided as there is evidence of neither a medical nor a psychological disorder. A summary statement of not dementia or similar is likely sufficient to help the patient.


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Applied Neuropsychology: Adult