This article appeared in the MS Society’s subscription magazine for members “MS Matters”. Thanks to the MS Society for allowing us to share. https://www.mssociety.org.uk/care-and-support/resources-and-publications/ms-matters-magazine
Annalaura Lerede is a PhD student at Imperial College London. She told us all about the largest ever cognitive study in people with MS.
In clinical practice the standard way to assess cognitive (memory and thinking) symptoms is with a pen and paper. Testing is time-consuming and has to be done in person. So cognitive symptoms are often overlooked, despite up to 80% of people with MS experiencing them.
The ultimate tool
Our team hopes to change the way cognitive symptoms are monitored. We want to do things better and more efficiently. So we designed cognitive tasks that can be done on our online platform, Cognitron.
They’re uniquely designed to test reaction time, processing speed, working memory, logic, and attention span.
Over 3,000 people with MS have tried the tasks through the UK MS Register, making it the largest study ever on MS cognition.
It’s showing us which cognitive symptoms people experience and it could help us predict how they change over time.
We’ll pick the six most sensitive tasks and, ultimately, develop an online monitoring tool specific to MS. We hope it could be used around the world by people with MS and clinicians.
A bigger picture
Some of these tasks were used to measure cognition in the general UK population. So we have so much data at our fingertips. We can compare the Cognitron results of someone with MS to somebody from exactly the same background, age, and gender who doesn’t have MS.
A unique cognitive fingerprint
I’m still analysing the data, so I can’t reveal too much yet! But what I can say is that we’ve identified a unique cognitive fingerprint of MS. It’s recognised a pattern of cognitive symptoms unique to the condition. And it varies between different types of MS. So I’m optimistic Cognitron could be used to help people with MS monitor their symptoms. And even help personalise cognitive therapies in the future.
Sandy, who was diagnosed with MS 13 years ago, tested Cognitron.
About six or seven years ago I started noticing changes at work. I wasn’t typing what my brain was thinking, even though I was sure I’d typed it perfectly. And I had some problems with my memory.
I started worrying I had dementia. Eventually, I mentioned it to my MS nurse and had some cognitive tests at the hospital. It was my MS.
Trying Cognitron Recently I tried Cognitron on the UK MS Register and gave feedback to the researchers. In comparison to the hospital tests, it’s really quite short – around 40 minutes.
It asks questions about your MS first. Then it assesses your motor skills so they’re not confused with cognitive impairment. The other tasks are chosen at random. For example, trying to recall a number of words on the screen.
The tasks come with a warning. They can be frustrating, especially if you’re competitive. And they can be tiring if you find it difficult to concentrate. After about 20 minutes, I wanted to stop.
But I think it’s really important to get across it’s not a failure, even if you want to stop after 10 minutes. The tasks are designed to take you to your limit. Anyone doing the tasks would eventually fail.
I’d like to try again, maybe in a year to see how things have changed. I think it’d be particularly helpful for newly diagnosed people. So it’d be good to see it integrated with the UK MS Register.
Coping with cognition Recognising and helping people cope with cognitive symptoms is so important. I’ve taught myself to slow down, take deep breaths and try and relax before I do things.
If cognitive impairments can be monitored more routinely with something like Cognitron, we could get more help adjusting to these changes. Rather than feel afraid, like I did
The Cognitron Brain Games are now open again on the UK MS Register
Log in and you will find ‘Brain Games’ in your to do list on the Hub Page.
Please remember that it takes a long time to do so make a cup of tea, and choose a time you won’t be too disturbed (you can take a break, just leave the browser open)
See your results
You can choose to see your results compared with the MS population of the same age, or the general population of the same age and use this to help with your MS Self Management by keeping a track of your cognition.
Log on now and try the Cognitron https://www.ukmsregister.org/Account/Login