BACKGROUND & AIMS:
In patients with cirrhosis, cognitive dysfunction most often results from covert hepatic encephalopathy (HE). These patients are not tested routinely for cognitive dysfunction despite single-center evidence that it could be associated with poor socioeconomic status (SES). We investigated the association between SES and cognition in a multicenter study of cirrhosis.
In a cross-sectional study, 236 cirrhotic patients from 3 centers (84 subjects from Virginia, 102 from Ohio, and 50 from Rome, Italy; age 57.7 ± 8.6 y; 14% with prior overt HE) were given recommended cognitive tests and a validated SES questionnaire that included questions about employment, personal and family income, and overall financial security. Comparisons were made among centers and between subjects who were employed or not. Regression analysis was performed using employment and personal income as outcomes.
Only 37% of subjects had been employed in the past year. Subjects had substantial financial insecurity-their yearly personal income ranged from $16,000 to $24,999, and their family income ranged from $25,000 to $49,999. They would be able to maintain a residence for only 3 to 6 months if their income stopped, and their current liquid assets were $500 to $4999 (<$500 if debt was subtracted). Cognition and SES were worst in Ohio and best in Virginia. Cognition correlated with personal and family income, within and between centers. On regression analysis, cognitive performance (digit symbol, lures, and line tracing) was associated with personal yearly income, after controlling for demographics, country, employment, and overt HE. Unemployed subjects had a higher rate of overt HE, worse cognition, and lower personal income than employed subjects. On regression analysis, performance on digit symbol, line tracing, inhibitory control test lures, and serial dotting tests remained associated with employment, similar to income.
In an international multicenter study of patients with cirrhosis, socioeconomic condition, based on employment and personal income, was associated strongly with cognitive performance, independent of age, education, and country.