The Arrows and Colors Cognitive Test (ACCT): A new verbal-motor free cognitive measure for executive functions in ALS

Background and objective

The presence of executive deficits in patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is well established, even if standardized measures are difficult to obtain due to progressive physical disability of the patients. We present clinical data concerning a newly developed measure of cognitive flexibility, administered by means of Eye-Tracking (ET) technology in order to bypass verbal-motor limitations.

Methods

21 ALS patients and 21 age-and education-matched healthy subjects participated in an ET-based cognitive assessment, including a newly developed test of cognitive flexibility (Arrows and Colors Cognitive Test–ACCT) and other oculomotor-driven measures of cognitive functions. A standard screening of frontal and working memory abilities and global cognitive efficiency was administered to all subjects, in addition to a psychological self-rated assessment. For ALS patients, a clinical examination was also performed.

Results

ACCT successfully discriminated between patients and healthy controls, mainly concerning execution times obtained at different subtests. A qualitative analysis performed on error distributions in patients highlighted a lower prevalence of perseverative errors, with respect to other type of errors. Correlations between ACCT and other ET-based frontal-executive measures were significant and involved different frontal sub-domains. Limited correlations were observed between ACCT and standard ‘paper and pencil’ cognitive tests.

Conclusions

The newly developed ET-based measure of cognitive flexibility could be a useful tool to detect slight frontal impairments in non-demented ALS patients by bypassing verbal-motor limitations through the oculomotor-driven administration. The findings reported in the present study represent the first contribution towards the development of a full verbal-motor free executive test for ALS patients.