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Cognitive Functioning and Disability in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

Cognitive Functioning and Disability in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Cognitive Functioning and Disability in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Philip D. Harvey

, and Felicia Gould


In many respects, PTSD is a disorder of cognition and memory in specific: individuals with the condition have trouble remembering details of the trauma when they want to and remember them in other situations where they do not want to, such as in nightmares and flashbacks. In addition, a growing literature has explored performance on other cognitive performance measures in PTSD. A new development is the study of the ability to perform critical everyday functional skills, referred to as functional capacity, which themselves are highly cognitively demanding. Our review of the literature on cognition and PTSD suggests two main conditions. There are several areas of cognitive functioning where people with PTSD perform below normative standards, on average. These domains include memory, attention, and executive functioning. However, there is also substantial evidence to suggest that impairments in cognition are present before the onset of other symptoms and may be a risk factor for the development of PTSD. A careful examination of the levels of performance of PTSD patients suggests that performance may not be worse than pre-illness functioning. Interventions aimed at cognition may still be beneficial, because a small literature consistently finds that cognitive impairments are correlated with indicators of everyday disability in people with PTSD.

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