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Cognitive recovery instead of decline after acute encephalitis: a prospective follow up study

Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry
Publication Date
  • Papers
  • Medicine
  • Psychology


OBJECTIVE—Follow up of cognitive sequelae of acute encephalitis and estimation of the frequency of persisting dementia.
METHODS—Out of a series of 45 consecutive patients with acute encephalitis prospectively studied in 1990-95, 40 were screened for difficulty in everyday life using the Blessed dementia scale (BDS) 3.7 (1.4), mean (SD), years after onset. Eight patients had had herpes simplex encephalitis (HSVE), 16 some other identified aetiology, and in 21 the aetiology was unknown. All, except two patients with a non-herpetic encephalitis, were treated with acyclovir. All patients with disability in BDS (12/40), were invited to a neuropsychological reassessment, and the results of this assessment were compared with those of a similar assessment done after the acute stage. At follow up one patient could not complete the tests due to intractable epilepsy.
RESULTS—In six of 11 cases the symptoms causing disability were mainly psychiatric. Five patients (two with HSVE) had a pronounced memory impairment together with other cognitive deficits, indicating dementia (frequency of 12.8%). In eight of the 11 testable cases cognitive performance had improved over the years, in two cases a decline was found and one patient with severe deficits showed no change. Intractable epilepsy was found in four of 12cases.
CONCLUSION—Cognitive decline had taken place already at the acute stage, and further deterioration was uncommon. Considerable improvement occurred in most patients during follow up. Also in patients with HSVE treated with acyclovir the cognitive recovery was substantial and of a magnitude not expected based on previous literature. Intractable epilepsy contributed to the cognitive deterioration in some cases. Affective disorders also had a surprisingly important role for the long term outcome.

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