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Cognitive Deficits Associated with Schizophrenia

As Schizophrenia develops, it can bring with it a significant decline in the person's cognitive - that is, intellectual - abilities.  These cognitive deficits do not necessarily occur in every case of Schizophrenia. If they occur, they do so usually at the start of the illness and then they remain relatively stable regardless of the presence and intensity of the other core symptoms [ref].

These cognitive deficits may not be very different from the negative symptoms of Schizophrenia [ref]. What is certain is that they are a cause of significant disability [ref]. The kinds of cognitive deficits that are known to occur in Schizophrenia include:

Working memory deficits:  The person loses some ability to hold new information in their thoughts for those few moments necessary to process or manipulate the information.

Executive function deficits:  This includes a wide range of cognitive functions that are impaired, including problem solving, planning, abstract reasoning, shifting easily from one task to another, social judgment and the ability to pick-up on social cues and read facial expressions, discerning other people's intentions and states of mind, and having a regular amount of motivation and initiative regarding everyday goals and tasks.  

Attention and vigilance deficits:  The person loses some ability to focus on a particular event while screening-out distractions.  This makes it difficult to retain information regarding the event in question and process this information any further.  Therefore, deficits in attention and vigilance will impair most other cognitive processes.

Long-term memory deficits:  Two types of long-term memory tend to be impaired in people with Schizophrenia: semantic memory, which involves the memory of facts and information like word definitions and names of objects or places; and episodic memory, which involves the memory of events that occurred in one's life.  There is some evidence that semantic memory deficits in Schizophrenia can be as profound as in Alzheimer's Disease [ref].

Processing speed deficits:  The speed at which people can perform various cognitive tasks, such as identifying objects, connecting concepts or performing calculations, is reduced in Schizophrenia.

To learn more about how clinicians can detect these cognitive deficits, see here.  


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Positive and Negative Symptoms

Extrapyramidal Symptoms