Journal of Neurology

, Volume 266, Issue 6, pp 1323–1331 | Cite as

Sustained attention failures on a 3-min reaction time task is a sensitive marker of dementia

  • Aurélie L. ManuelEmail author
  • David Foxe
  • Nathan Bradshaw
  • Nicholas J. Cordato
  • John R. Hodges
  • James R. Burrell
  • Olivier Piguet
Original Communication


The objective of the study is to determine the utility of a simple reaction time task as a marker of general cognitive decline across the frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) spectrum and in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). One hundred and twelve patients presenting with AD or FTLD affecting behaviour (behavioural-variant frontotemporal dementia), language (progressive non fluent aphasia, logopenic progressive aphasia, semantic dementia) or motor function (corticobasal syndrome, progressive supranuclear palsy, frontotemporal dementia–motor neuron disease) and 25 age-matched healthy controls completed the Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT), a 3-min reaction time (RT) task. The proportion of lapses (RT > 500 ms) was significantly increased in dementia patients compared to healthy controls, except for semantic dementia, and correlated with all cognitive functions except language. Discrimination of individuals (dementia patients versus healthy controls) based on the proportion of lapses yielded the highest classification performance (Area Under the Curve, AUC, 0.90) compared to standard neuropsychological tests. Only the complete and lengthy neuropsychological battery had a higher predictive value (AUC 0.96). The basic ability to sustain attention is fundamental to perform any cognitive task. Lapses, interpreted as momentary shifts in goal-directed processing, can therefore, be used as a marker of general cognitive decline indicative of possible dementia.


Sustained attention Vigilance Neurodegenerative disorders Dementia Reaction time Psychomotor vigilance task 



This work was supported in part by funding to ForeFront, a collaborative research group dedicated to the study of frontotemporal dementia and motor neuron disease, from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (APP1037746) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders Memory Program (CE11000102). ALM is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (P300P1_171478), JRB was supported by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (1072451) and OP is supported by an NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship (APP1103258).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

415_2019_9261_MOESM1_ESM.docx (22 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 21 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Brain and Mind CentreThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its DisordersSydneyAustralia
  4. 4.The Department of Aged CareSt George HospitalKogarahAustralia
  5. 5.Calvary Health Care SydneyKogarahAustralia
  6. 6.Faculty of MedicineUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  7. 7.Clinical Medical SchoolThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  8. 8.Concord General HospitalSydneyAustralia

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