Attention Performance in Children Affected with Absence Epilepsy and their First Degree Relatives

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This study attempted to identify possible familial markers of absence epilepsy (petit mal epilepsy) as evidenced in the performance on tests of attention. The objective of this study examined as measured by neuropsychological test performance among the first degree relatives (parents and siblings) of children affected by absence epilepsy. Twelve families, with a total of 45 members including 14 children affected with absence epilepsy, were selected and assessed with the NIMH-Neuropsychological Attention Battery (based on four factor model, ENCODE, FOCUS-EXECUTE, SHIFT and SUSTAIN) at the Pediatric Neurology Unit at the Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel. Partial support was found for a Pattern of familial association in one of the four factors (SUSTAIN, assessed with the computerized version of the Continuous Performance Test, CPT) in attention performance for children affected with absence epilepsy and their first degree relatives. Statistically significant correlations were obtained between male probands and both parents (independently for mother and father) and between probands and their siblings in the sustained attention factor (SUSTAIN). Probands scored consistently lower than parents and siblings on the tasks in the same factor. The SUSTAIN factor is a sensitive measure of sustained attention, and in this study it detected the familial behavioral pattern of reaction time, percentage of errors and correct responses in some of the CPT tasks. Gender comparison revealed differences in performance. The results in the current study indicate that SUSTAIN is the only factor included in the model of attention that discriminates between probands, parents and siblings, and is sensitive to very subtle impairments. Analyses of the psychometric properties of the NIMH-Neuropsychological Attention Battery are presented. The significance of the study and the implications for education are examined. Recommendations for further research are elaborated and the need to replicate the study with additional subjects is suggested.