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Functional cognitive disorder: what is it and what to do about it?
  1. Catherine Pennington1,2,
  2. Margaret Newson1,2,
  3. Amrit Hayre1,
  4. Elizabeth Coulthard1,2
  1. 1ReMemBr Group, School of Clinical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  2. 2North Bristol NHS Trust, Institute of Neurosciences, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Catherine Pennington, ReMemBr group (Research into Memory, the Brain and dementia), Institute of Clinical Neuroscience, School of Clinical Sciences, University of Bristol and North Bristol NHS Trust, Level 2, Learning and Research building, Southmead Hospital, Southmead, Bristol BS10 5NB, UK; c.pennington{at}


To err is human, and it is normal to make minor cognitive errors from time to time. Some people experience persistent subjective cognitive difficulties that cause distress and functional impairment, with no underlying structural, neurodegenerative, toxic or metabolic cause. This is considered a form of functional disorder. In this article, we review functional cognitive disorder and outline its core clinical features. Patients with this are typically of working age and have a source of psychological distress, such as chronic pain, work stress or family difficulties. Its distinction from incipient dementia is difficult and usually requires interval follow-up. Pointers towards possible dementia include abnormal neuroimaging or loss of insight. Many patients accept a functional cognitive disorder diagnosis and willingly engage with psychological therapies but there is no defined optimal treatment. Functional cognitive disorder is common but under-studied; future research priorities include the development of clear diagnostic criteria and robust trials of therapeutic strategies.


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