Congratulations to Julia Gottwald, a PhD student from the Department of Psychiatry, who recently won a poster prize awarded by the British Royal College of Psychiatrists during her presentation at the British Association of Psychopharmacology summer meeting in Bristol. The main topic of her project relates to the investigation of cognitive profiles in adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
We caught up with Julia after the event, and she spoke to us about the motivation for the study: “Previous studies have found some demographic and clinical differences between teenage and adult patients. For instance, while there is a similar prevalence of men and women affected with OCD, studies show that teenage boys are much more likely to have OCD than girls. There is also a disparity in insight as teenage patients often demonstrate a marked decrease in awareness about their OCD behaviour compared to adults. Could there be two distinct subtypes of OCD in adolescents and adults? Investigating cognitive function might provide a clue about that.“
To date, most of the neuropsychological research in OCD has been done on adult patients. To address this gap, Julia Gottwald and her team administered a series of cognitive assessments on adolescent OCD patients.
Several differences in cognitive profiles were found. Firstly, the young OCD patients made poorer decisions compared to the adults. Secondly, in contrast to adults, the younger patients did not show an impairment in cognitive flexibility – the ability to switch between different concepts. The lack of impairment in the younger patients is surprising, given that cognitive inflexibility is one of the hallmark deficits in adult OCD patients. Finally, the study also found that cognitive rigidity was associated with older age, suggesting that older adolescent OCD patients were displaying a similar pattern to that of the adults. Collectively, these strands of convergent findings provide further evidence that adolescent and adult OCD might represent two distinct subtypes.
On the significance of these findings, Julia added: “We will be following this study with another task to investigate cognitive flexibility and other cognitive domains. If we continue to see these group differences, we might need to adjust treatment. At the moment, adolescent and adult OCD are treated with the same drugs and very similar behavioural therapy. This might need to be changed if we are dealing with two subtypes.“