Frontal lobe dysfunction, as measured by the frontal systems behavioural scale, in the context of HIV infection and heavy episodic drinking

Master Thesis


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Background: The frontal lobe of the human brain is integral in regulating behaviour. Behavioural disturbances such as apathy, disinhibition, and dysexecutive function are well-known consequences of frontal lobe pathology, leading to significant impairment. Heavy episodic drinking (HED) and HIV are common conditions that impair the frontal lobe, with disinhibition frequently being seen in people with HED, apathy in HIV positive patients and both HIV and HED leading to executive dysfunction. There is a paucity of research on the interplay between HIV and HED and how this impacts behaviour associated with frontal lobe dysfunction. The Frontal Systems Behaviour Scale (FrSBe) is a questionnaire designed to measure problematic behaviour associated with frontal systems impairment. It has been used in a range of clinical populations. It consists of a total score and three subscale scores, namely apathy (Scale A), disinhibition (Scale D) and executive dysfunction (Scale E). This tool is easy to administer and has the potential to provide clinically useful information that could guide management of patients with these conditions. Aim: As a first step to knowing more about the complex interplay between HIV and HED and its effects on frontal lobe function, the aim of this study was to determine the relationship between HIV status, HED and frontal-systems behavioural dysfunction (impulsivity, apathy, and executive dysfunction) as measured by the FrSBe. Methods: Participants for this quantitative, cross-sectional, and analytical study were recruited from the Nolungile Clinic in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. They were grouped according to their HIV- and HED status. Relevant demographic and clinical data were obtained. Participants completed the Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Symptoms Screener (SAMISS) questionnaires and the FrSBe self-report measure that was translated into isiXhosa. Both measures were scored and the FrSBe raw scores were converted to T-scores. Results: A total of the 99 participants met the inclusion criteria, of which 25 were in the HED only group, 22 in the HIV+ only group, 26 in the dual group, and 26 were in the control group. The mean age (SD) of the sample was 37.92 (8.8) years. There was a statistical difference between groups for the total drinking score on the SAMISS (p = 65), were present on the FrSBe Total Score in 29 of the participants. On the apathy subscale score, 36 participants had clinically significant (T-score >= 65) deficits, 14 had deficits on the disinhibition subscale, and 34 had on the executive dysfunction subscale. There were no statistically significant differences in the proportion of participants with clinically significant deficits between groups for any FrSBe scores. Conclusions: This study shows that people with HED have more dysfunctional behaviour associated with frontal system impairment and are more disinhibited. HIV status does not appear to influence frontal system behaviour. These finding needs to be interpreted with caution as the study FrSBe was administered in isiXhosa, in which it has not been validated, and no normative data was available for the study population. Future studies validating the FrSBe in a South African context and deriving normative data for South African populations would be a first step into developing the FrSBe into a clinically useful tool. This could, in turn, potentially lead to improved care and treatment in these conditions by identifying specific impairments and problematic behaviours as targets for intervention.