Staging and stratifying cognitive dysfunction in multiple sclerosis

Curtis Wojcik, Tom A Fuchs, Hoan Tran, Michael G Dwyer, Dejan Jakimovski, Mahmut Unverdi, Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, Robert Zivadinov, Arman Eshaghi, Ralph Hb Benedict
Multiple Sclerosis: Clinical and Laboratory Research 2021 May 6, : 13524585211011390

BACKGROUND: The sequence in which cognitive domains become impaired in multiple sclerosis (MS) is yet to be formally demonstrated. It is unclear whether processing speed dysfunction temporally precedes other cognitive impairments, such as memory and executive function.

OBJECTIVE: Determine the order in which different cognitive domains become impaired in MS and validate these findings using clinical and vocational outcomes.

METHODS: In a longitudinal sample of 1073 MS patients and 306 healthy controls, we measured performance on multiple, consensus-standard, neurocognitive tests. We used an event-based staging approach to model the sequence in which cognitive domains become impaired. Linear and logistic mixed-effects models were used to explore associations between stages of impairment, neurological disability, and employment status.

RESULTS: Our model suggested that the order of impairments was as follows: processing speed, visual learning, verbal learning, working memory/attention, and executive function. Stage of cognitive impairment predicted greater neurological disability, β = 0.16, SE = 0.02, p < 0.001, and probability of unemployment, β = 1.14, SE = 0.001, p < 0.001.

CONCLUSION: This is the first study to introduce a cognitive staging and stratification system for MS. Findings underscore the importance of using the Symbol Digit Modalities Test in routine screening for cognitive impairment and memory testing to assess patients later in disease evolution.

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