Research Article

Metabolic Brain Disease

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 421-430

First online:

Episodic memory impairment in Addison’s disease: results from a telephonic cognitive assessment

  • Michelle HenryAffiliated withUniversity of Cape Town Email author 
  • , Kevin G. F. ThomasAffiliated withUniversity of Cape Town

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Patients with Addison’s disease frequently self-report memory and attention difficulties, even when on standard replacement therapy. However, few published studies examine, using objective measures and assessing across multiple domains, the cognitive functioning of Addison’s disease patients relative to healthy controls. The primary aim of this study was to investigate whether the previously reported subjective cognitive deficits in Addison’s disease are confirmed by objective measures. Conducting comprehensive neuropsychological assessments of patients with relatively rare clinical disorders, such as Addison’s disease, is challenging because access to those patients is often limited, and because their medical condition might prevent extended testing sessions. Brief telephonic cognitive assessments are a useful tool in such circumstances. Hence, we administered the Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone to 27 Addison’s disease patients and 27 matched healthy controls. The instrument provides objective assessment of episodic memory, working memory, executive functioning, reasoning, and speed of processing. Statistical analyses confirmed that, as expected, patients performed significantly more poorly than controls on the episodic memory subtest. There were, however, no significant between-group differences on the attention, executive functioning, reasoning, and speed of processing subtests. Furthermore, patients with a longer duration of illness performed more poorly across all domains of cognition. We conclude that, for Addison’s disease patients, previously reported subjective cognitive deficits are matched by objective impairment, but only in the domain of episodic memory. Future research might investigate (a) whether these memory deficits are material-specific (i.e., whether non-verbal memory is also affected), and (b) the neurobiological mechanisms underlying these deficits.


Addison’s disease Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone Cognition Memory Telephonic cognitive assessment