The Effect of Psychotherapy on Cognitive Functioning in Patients with Alzheimers’

Anisa Garrett, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, United States
Steven Rogers, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, United States


Research has shown that Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is impacted by psychological variables such as anxiety and depression. We know that treatment of these disorders can alleviate mood variables and impact corresponding effects on the neuropsychological testing of AD. However, little research has been done to look at the benefit of psychotherapy on neurocognitive disorders. This study examines the effect of psychotherapy on the cognitive functioning of patients diagnosed with AD. 

Participants and Methods:

A total of 156 patients (79 women, M age = 77.82, M education = 14.21) diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) participated in a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment as part of outpatient neurology evaluations. Participants completed measures of attention (WAIS-IV Digit Span), processing speed (WAIS-IV Coding, DKEFS Color Naming & Word Reading, Trails A), frontal-executive functioning (Trails B, DKEFS Inhibition, WAIS-IV Similarities, Arithmetic, & Letter-Number Sequencing), visuospatial function (ROCF Copy, WAIS-IV Block Design & Picture Completion), language (FAS, BNT), and verbal (WMS-IV Logical Memory, HVLT-R) and nonverbal memory (BVMT-R, ROCF 3’ & 30’).



T-test analyses showed that patients with AD who have participated in any type of psychotherapy performed significantly better on WMS-IV Logical Memory I, t(116) = 2.81, p < .01, and Logical Memory II, t(116) = 2.25, p < .03 than patients who had not participated in therapy. These findings persisted even when controlling for patients’ current level of depression and anxiety, Fs(1, 100) > 4.22, ps < .05, and whether or not they were taking psychiatric medication, Fs(1, 115) = > 3.97, ps < .05. Patients who had participated in psychotherapy also scored better on WAIS-IV Similarities than their counterparts without psychotherapeutic history when controlling for their current level of anxiety and depression, F (1, 125) = 4.47, p < .04, and whether or not they were taking psychopharmacological intervention, F (1, 144) = 5.36, p < .03.



These findings suggest that individuals diagnosed with AD benefit from participation in psychotherapy, specifically in regard to their contextual verbal memory and verbal abstract reasoning. This advantage persists even independent of their current level of psychological distress and whether they are taking psychiatric medication. These findings could be secondary to psychotherapy-related frontal and temporal activation changes that not only offset psychological variables in those with AD, but also buffer against the impact of neurodegeneration on cognition. Further research can assess cognitive-related differences between modalities of therapy. 

Category: Dementia (Alzheimer's Disease)

Keyword 1: cognitive functioning
Keyword 2: emotional processes