Research: Use it or Lose It

Epub: Sumowski JF et al. Cognitive reserve in secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler 2012.

Background: Consistent with the cognitive reserve hypothesis, lifetime intellectual enrichment protects MS patients from cognitive impairment. As studies have focused predominately on patients with relapsing-remitting courses, it is unknown whether lifetime enrichment is protective against cognitive impairment in patients with secondary-progressive MS (SPMS), a more advanced disease course.

Objective: Examine whether greater lifetime intellectual enrichment moderates/reduces the deleterious effect of SPMS on memory and cognitive efficiency.

Methods: Twenty-five SPMS patients and 25 healthy controls (HC) completed neuropsychological tasks, yielding two composite scores: memory and cognitive efficiency. An estimate of lifetime enrichment was created from educational attainment and vocabulary knowledge.

Results: Interactions emerged between intellectual enrichment and group when predicting memory (p = 0.041) and cognitive efficiency (p = 0.024), such that SPMS patients exhibited deficits relative to HCs at lower levels of enrichment, but these SPMS-related cognitive deficits were absent at higher levels of enrichment.

Conclusion: Intellectual enrichment protects SPMS patients from cognitive impairment, thereby extending the cognitive reserve hypothesis to this more advanced MS disease course.

Environmental / intellectual enrichment protects against the ravages of cognitive impairment.

“This result is not surprising and would fit with what we know about cognitive function in other dementing diseases.”

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  • Are people who get MS around age 30 or later at an advantage? They've had more time to build up cognitive reserves

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