Driving psychosocial wellness
Research is essential to finding solutions that change the lives of people with MS, particularly the psychosocial symptoms of the disease. These include both cognitive and emotional problems.
- Cognition: Researchers have made great strides in the last decade to understand how cognitive problems develop in people with MS, and to develop strategies to lessen their effects. Cognitive changes in MS are very different from those that appear in Alzheimer’s. MS generally affects a few specific functions rather than globally impairing all intellectual abilities. These functions include memory; complex attention; speed of information processing; planning and prioritizing; visual perceptual abilities; and word-finding. Because MS causes specific cognitive problems, investigators have attempted to correlate particular cognitive deficits with abnormalities in specific areas of the brain. The last decade has seen an explosion of such research, primarily using functional magnetic resonance imaging, an imaging technology that measures the amount of oxygen used by different areas of the brain. Investigators administer scans while their subjects are performing certain tasks, to determine which areas of the brain are more or less active during the performance of each task.
In particular, the Society has played a key role in bringing cognitive issues to forefront in children with MS. Little had been documented about how cognitive impairments may affect children with MS. The Pediatric MS Centers of Excellence funded through the National MS Society’s Promise: 2010 campaign
stepped up to fill this void, creating a standardized battery of cognitive tests to assess function; conducting research; and providing important resources
for parents and children.
- Emotion: In addition to the emotional reactions to the disease, MS-related tissue damage in the brain can also result in emotional changes. People with MS and all those closely associated with them should be aware that depression in its various forms is common during the course of multiple sclerosis. A team funded by the Society found evidence that depression is linked to brain volume loss in specific subregions of an area of the brain called the “hippocampus,” which is known to be important in memory. Read more
Can aerobic exercise improve cognitive impairment? A team of researchers, from the University of Washington in Seattle, has teamed up with researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the State University of New York at Buffalo, to do a National MS Society-funded, controlled clinical trial to evaluate the effects of two forms of exercise training (aerobic training versus stretching and toning exercise) on cognition in people with MS.
Strong evidence that cognitive rehabilitation improves learning and memory: Researchers at the Kessler Foundation in New Jersey report results of a clinical trial showing that a specific type of memory training improves learning in people with MS for at least 6 months after the training has ended, and also benefits other aspects of quality of life. This controlled trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health, provides important results that should help promote the benefits of cognitive rehabilitation and improve its coverage by insurers. Read more
Shedding light on depression: The National MS Society convened a meeting to focus a light on depression in MS as part of its commitment to drive research and programs in Wellness. The meeting included healthcare professionals, researchers, therapists, program providers, people living with MS and their family members, who candidly discussed this darkest of MS symptoms and its impact on people’s lives. Read more