Multiple Sclerosis Anxiety Affects Visual Learning

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A study looked at how anxiety and cognitive fatigue effect learning and memory in MS patients.

Cognitive fatigue and anxiety in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients is prevalent in visual learning exercises, as well as memory tests, according to a recent study.

According to researchers — mostly graduate students — from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University in Bronx, NY, MS patients referred for neuropsychological testing as part of their care are susceptible to the effects of anxiety and cognitive impairment due to fatigue in learning and memory tests.

The researchers, lead by Caroline Altaras, BS, collected data from 112 MS patients referred for neuropsychological testing at the Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ. A majority of patients were female (83) over male (29), and the average patient age was 48.65 years old.

While examining the relationship between cognitive fatigue and anxiety — both prevalent symptoms in MS patients — and its potential effect on visual learning, researchers used the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADSA) as a metric for anxiety. HADSA is a patient-answered questionnaire about their overall state of being and mind.

Cognitive fatigue was measured with the cognitive subscale of the Fatigue Scale for Motor and Cognitive Functions (FSMCC). Participating patients were administered the Brief Visuospatial Memory Test (BVMT) Revised, to gauge their visual learning and memory.

Researchers issued 3 trials to test severe cognitive fatigue and anxiety’s effect on visual learning, with the two conditions serving as predictor variables in a multivariate general linear model.

With control for education, age, and years of education, severe cognitive fatigue had a significant effect on BVMT Trial 2 results (F= 5.529, p= .021), though not in Trial 1 or 3 results (F=3.408, p= .068; F=35.702, p=.662).

Researchers noted MS patients with severe cognitive fatigue scored higher on visual learning than those with “mild, moderate, or no cognitive fatigue, particularly in the absence of anxiety.”

“This suggests that cognitive fatigue may have a protective function,” researchers wrote.

When controlling for severe cognitive fatigue, anxiety had a significant effect on all three trials of visual learning.

On average, MS patients diagnosed with anxiety and those with severe cognitive fatigue scored lower on all 3 administered visual learning tests than those without such symptoms.

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