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Understanding and managing cognitive impairment in bipolar disorder in older people

  • Judy S. Rubinsztein (a1), Barbara J. Sahakian (a2) and John T. O'Brien (a3)

Summary

Bipolar disorder is less prevalent in older people but accounts for 8–10% of psychiatric admissions. Treating and managing bipolar disorder in older people is challenging because of medical comorbidity. We review the cognitive problems observed in older people, explore why these are important and consider current treatment options. There are very few studies examining the cognitive profiles of older people with bipolar disorder and symptomatic depression and mania, and these show significant impairments in executive function. Most studies have focused on cognitive impairment in euthymic older people: as in euthymic adults of working age, significant impairments are observed in tests of attention, memory and executive function/processing speeds. Screening tests are not always helpful in euthymic older people as the impairment can be relatively subtle, and more in-depth neuropsychological testing may be needed to show impairments. Cognitive impairment may be more pronounced in older people with ‘late-onset’ bipolar disorder than in those with ‘early-onset’ disorder. Strategies to address symptomatic cognitive impairment in older people include assertive treatment of the mood disorder, minimising drugs that can adversely affect cognition, optimising physical healthcare and reducing relapse rates.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • understand that cognitive impairment in euthymic older people with bipolar disorder is similar to that in working-age adults with the disorder, affecting attention, memory and executive function/processing speeds
  • recognise that cognitive impairment in older people is likely to be a major determinant of functional outcomes
  • Implement approaches to treat cognitive impairment in bipolar disorder.

DECLARATION OF INTEREST

B.J.S. consults for Cambridge Cognition, PEAK (www.peak.net) and Mundipharma.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Correspondence Judy Rubinsztein, Beechcroft, Fulbourn Hospital, Fulbourn, Cambridge CB21 5EF, UK. Email: judy.rubinsztein@cpft.nhs.uk

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Understanding and managing cognitive impairment in bipolar disorder in older people

  • Judy S. Rubinsztein (a1), Barbara J. Sahakian (a2) and John T. O'Brien (a3)
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