Epilepsy Information

American Epilepsy Society poster (Abst. 1.072)

Sexually abused patients with psychological non-epileptic seizures (PNES) exhibit better visual memory scores compared to PNES patients who have suffered other forms of abuse

Authors: Drs. L. Myers, M. E. Lancman

The aim of this study was to compare verbal versus visual memory in patients with Psychological non-epileptic seizures (PNES) with abuse histories. Our hypothesis was that those with a history of sexual abuse would exhibit better visual memory than the ones without it.


Of 49 consecutive patients with the diagnosis of PNES who underwent video-EEG and complete neuropsychological testing, 36 were selected who had the DSM IV diagnosis of conversion disorder. Thirteen patients with other diagnoses including malingering, factitious and somatization disorder were excluded for this analysis. Patients were administered four memory tests. Visual memory was tested using the Continuous Visual Memory Test (CVMT) and the Rey Osterrieth Complex Figure Test (ROCFT). Verbal memory was tested using the California Verbal Learning Test-II (CVLT-II) and the Wechsler Memory Scale (WMS-III-Logical Memory subtest). Raw scores from all four tests were analyzed.

When scores for each test were compared between the following three groups: 1) with history of abuse, 2) physical abuse and 3) sexual abuse, only the sexually abused showed a significant difference on visual memory as measured by the CVMT (74.9±1.7 with sexual abuse and 69.8 ±1.6 without abuse, t= 2.22, p=0.03). No other significant findings were found on other tests. A second analysis was done to determine whether there was a correlation between the age in which sexual abuse began and CVMT scores. A significant correlation was not found although there was a trend noted (r= -3.71, p=0.15) in that younger ages of sexual abuse obtained higher scores on the CVMT.

Our results show that sexually abused patients with PNES earn significantly higher visual memory scores than ones without a history of sexual abuse. There was also a trend of younger age of abuse to higher CVMT scores.