Reaction time, attention, and impulsivity in epilepsy.

Abstract

Reaction time, attention, and impulsivity were studied in 112 children with epilepsy (4.5-13 years) using a computerized test. We measured simple reaction time (response with each hand separately to a single stimulus), forced choice reaction time (two stimuli presented in random order, one designated for each hand), and choice reaction time with distraction (two response stimuli, one for each hand, with two additional distracting stimuli randomly inserted). We also measured variability of speed of response and errors of omission and commission. Controls were unaffected children of similar age, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Children with epilepsy were significantly slower, more variable, and made more omission errors than control children, even when analysis was limited to epileptic patients with IQ greater than 90, but they did not make more commission (i.e., impulsive) errors. Reaction times were related to IQ, but in general were not related to seizure severity, duration of seizure disorder, or duration of medication use. Untreated patients (N = 13) did not differ from those with antiepileptic drug levels in the therapeutic range on the day of testing (N = 52), but differed significantly from normal patients. Epileptic patients demonstrated significant slowing of reaction time and inattention, but not significant impulsivity, compared to normal children; however, these deficits do not appear to be related specifically to seizure history or treatment.

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