Parkinson's disease patients are at an elevated risk of developing cognitive impairment. Although cognitive impairment is one of the strongest predictors of quality of life, dopaminergic anti-parkinsonian medications are designed to target motor symptoms. However, there is substantial evidence that dopamine also impacts cognition, in particular working memory. It is therefore critical for movement disorders physicians to understand the potential dopaminergic effects on working memory when prescribing these medications. Verbal digit span tasks offer a potentially straightforward and quick assessment of baseline working memory. Moreover, Digit Span Backward was recently validated as a screening tool for mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease when participants were medicated. Research indicates that the interaction between dopamine and working memory follows an Inverted-U shaped curve, but the effect of dopamine on Digit Span has not been well studied. Our study seeks to: (1) determine the validity of verbal Digit Spans for detecting cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease patients both ON and OFF medications; and (2) ascertain the effects of dopaminergic medications on verbal Digit Span.We recruited 64 Parkinson's disease patients and 22 age-and education-matched controls. Parkinson's patients completed Digit Span Backward and Digit Span Forward ON and OFF medications, while healthy controls completed them once. All participants were categorized by cognitive diagnosis using level-II consensus criteria.Digit Span Backward successfully identified mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease, both ON and OFF medications. Combining patients with and without cognitive impairment, we found that dopamine significantly improved performance on Digit Span Backward, but not Forward. In a secondary analysis, we found this dopaminergic improvement was restricted to the Low baseline working memory group; the High baseline working memory group was unaffected.This study provides evidence for Digit Span Backward as a screening tool for working memory impairment in Parkinson's disease and for its utility in measuring baseline working memory. Moreover, it reveals a partial beneficial effect of dopamine on Digit Span in Parkinson's disease patients.
View details for DOI 10.1186/s40734-016-0033-z
View details for PubMedID 26955482
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4780147