Literature Review

Panel Provides Recommendations for Managing Cognitive Changes in MS

Baseline screening and periodic reassessments aid in the monitoring of treatment response and disease progression.


The National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society has developed recommendations for the identification and management of cognitive impairment in MS. The recommendations, which were endorsed by the Consortium of MS Centers and the International MS Cognition Society, were published online ahead of print October 10 in Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

Cognitive change may affect between 34% and 65% of adults with MS. Decreases in information processing and memory are the most common changes, and cognitive impairment may arise before MRI abnormalities that indicate MS. These changes can affect patients’ ability to work, drive, manage money, and participate in activities.

Patients and Clinicians Need Information

Patients and caregivers should receive information about common cognitive changes in MS and how they affect everyday life, said Rosalind Kalb, PhD, Vice President of the Professional Resource Center at the National MS Society in New York, and coauthors. Patients and caregivers also should be told about the high prevalence of cognitive symptoms in MS and the need for ongoing assessments. Similarly, clinicians need information about how cognitive impairments affect medical decision-making and adherence, said the authors. Clinicians also need referral resources for cognitive assessment and treatment.

All adults and children age 8 or older diagnosed with MS should, as a minimum, undergo early baseline screening with the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) or another validated screening tool, according to the recommendations. These patients should be reassessed with the same instrument annually or more often, as needed, to detect disease activity, assess for treatment effects or relapse recovery, monitor progression of cognitive impairment, and screen for new cognitive problems.

In addition to the SDMT, screening tools that have been validated in patients with MS include the Processing Speed Test, Computerized Speed Cognitive Test, MS Neuropsychological Screening Questionnaire, Brief International Cognitive Assessment for MS, Brief Repeatable Neuropsychological Battery, and Minimal Assessment of Cognitive Function in MS.

Interventions May Improve or Maintain Function

An adult who tests positive for cognitive impairment on initial screening should undergo a more comprehensive assessment, especially if the person has comorbidities that raise concerns or is applying for disability due to cognitive impairment. A child with an unexplained change in school performance should receive a neuropsychologic evaluation, said Dr. Kalb and colleagues.

Furthermore, adults and children should be offered remedial interventions or accommodations to improve function at home, work, or school. Appropriately trained professionals should deliver these interventions to address “objectively measured deficits in attention, processing speed, memory and learning, and performance of everyday functional tasks,” said the authors. Clinicians can consider contextualized treatment (eg, self-generated learning tasks) and noncontextualized treatment (eg, memory-retrieval practice and computer-based attention interventions) for remediation of everyday activities, according to the recommendations.


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