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Sense of control, selective attention and cognitive inhibition in pediatric functional seizures: A prospective case-control study

      Highlights

      • Children with functional seizures demonstrated poorer selective attention and cognitive inhibition as compared with matched controls when presented with seizure-related stimuli.
      • Children with functional seizures had poorer awareness that their control was being manipulated.
      • A majority of children with functional seizures reported experiencing premonitory symptoms prior to functional seizures.

      Abstract

      Purpose

      To date, laboratory-based experimental behavioral methods have not been used to identify factors associated with pediatric functional seizures (FS), leaving a critical gap for effective treatment development.

      Methods

      Children ages 13–18 with video-EEG-confirmed FS were matched to controls (MCs) based on income, sex, race, and age. A modified Stroop task which included a condition requiring participants to report the ink colors in which seizure symptom words were written (e.g., “shaking” in blue) measured selective attention and cognitive inhibition through response time. The magic and turbulence task assessed sense of control in three conditions (magic, lag, turbulence). Children with FS were asked to report premonitory symptoms predicting FS.

      Results

      Participants included 26 children with FS and 26 MCs (Meanage=15.2, 74% female, 59% white). On Stroop, children with FS had a slower reaction time (Mean=1193.83) than MCs (Mean=949.26, p = 0.022) for seizure symptom words. Children with FS had significantly poorer sense of control in the turbulence condition of the magic and turbulence task (Mean=-3.99, SD=8.83) than MCs (Mean=-11.51, SD=7.87; t(20)=-2.61, p =0.017). Children with FS (Mean=-1.80, SD=6.54) also had significantly poorer sense of control in the magic condition than MCs (Mean=-5.57, SD=6.01; p =0.028). Ninety-eight percent of patients endorsed premonitory symptoms.

      Conclusion

      Compared with MCs, children with FS have (1) poorer selective attention and cognitive inhibition when presented with seizure-related information and (2) lower sense of control (i.e. poorer awareness that their control was manipulated). Premonitory symptoms were common. Sense of control, selective attention, and inhibition may be novel treatment targets for FS intervention.

      Keywords

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