Executive deficits in schizophrenia: Mediation by processing speed and its relationships with aging


Background: Executive deficits are a core characteristic of schizophrenia. Yet, the origin of these impairments remains unclear as they may be caused by processing slowing. This issue is of particular interest for aging insofar as cognitive aging is also associated with decline in executive functioning and a slowing of processing speed. As schizophrenia patients’ life expectancy increases, a better understanding of the origin of older patients’ cognitive deficits becomes essential so that healthcare can be adapted to suit them. This study aims to determine whether processing speed mediates how schizophrenia affects executive functions, and whether these relationships are moderated by age. Methods: Sixty-two schizophrenia patients (27 women) and 62 healthy comparison subjects matched for age (range: 18 to 76 years), gender and education performed neurocognitive tests to evaluate their executive functions (shifting, updating, inhibition and access) and processing speed. Results: Processing speed mediated the effect of schizophrenia on the four specific executive functions, and age moderated this mediation for shifting, updating and access, but in different ways. Age moderated the effect of processing speed on shifting, the direct effect of schizophrenia on access, and both the effect of processing speed and direct effect of schizophrenia on updating. Conclusions: This research highlights the need to evaluate processing speed routinely during therapeutic follow-up, as it is easy and simple to assess and appears to be at the heart of the cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. Finally, processing speed abilities yield information about the evolution of cognition with aging in schizophrenia.

Psychological Medicine, 52(6), 1126-1134