Changes in Personality Associated with Deep Brain Stimulation: a Qualitative Evaluation of Clinician Perspectives

Neuroethics 14 (1):109-124 (2019)
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Abstract

Gilbert et al. argue that the neuroethics literature discussing the putative effects of Deep Brain Stimulation on personality largely ignores the scientific evidence and presents distorted claims that personality change is induced by the DBS stimulation. This study contributes to the first-hand primary research on the topic exploring DBS clinicians’ views on post-DBS personality change among their patients and its underlying cause. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with sixteen clinicians from various disciplines working in Australian DBS practice for movement disorders and/or psychiatric conditions. Thematic analysis of the interviews revealed five primary themes: 1) types, frequency and duration of personality change, 2) causes of personality change, 3) impact on patient and family, 4) communication, comprehension and awareness, and 5) management. Clinicians described a variety of personality changes in Parkinson’s disease following DBS including irritability, impulsivity and impaired decision-making. The frequency of personality change seen in patients varied amongst clinicians, but changes were overwhelmingly transient. Clinicians considered both DBS stimulation and additional factors as inducing personality change. For DBS patients with major depressive disorder, a restoration of pre-morbid personality was associated with alleviation of illness. Considerations for future research of personality change following DBS include selecting suitable tools for quantitative examination and developing a common language between the scientific and ethics communities. Clinical implications including recommendations for the informed consent process for patients and families and clinicians’ management of personality change are discussed.

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Adrian Carter
Monash University