About three years ago I started wearing another hat; a preventive medicine hat.
We started the Preventive Neurology Unit within our medical school focusing on MS, Parkison’s Disease and all-cause dementia. The unit is growing rapidly and gaining momentum. It was with great pride that I was able to attend and speak at first symposium. I have uploaded my slides for anyone who wants to download them for personal use.
It is clear that we have an obligation to the next generation of pwMS. The study below shows that young people with MS take a massive cognitive hit. The study shows that at a presentation about a quarter of young people with MS have cognitive impairment at baseline and ~15% had a measurable decline over the next 2 years. In a world where our self-worth is largely defined by our cognition, these figures are scary. The observation that MS is a dementing disease is not new and goes back many decades.
The willingness of the MS community to accept this is worrying; they say calling MS a dementing disease is stigmatising. Yes and no. Yes, if you want to put your head in the sand and no if you want the MS community to do something about it. It is clear that the dementia is preventable; i.e. the less brain damage that you allow to accumulate the less cognitively impaired the pwMS will become. This is the message behind our treat-early treat-effectively campaign and why we need to flip the pyramid. Access to the most effective treatments early on is the only way to really prevent end-organ damage.
More importantly, is the observation that MS is preventable. We estimate that by tackling childhood and adolescent obesity and smoking may reduce the incidence of my MS by ~25%. Vitamin D supplementation may reduce the incidence by a further 40%. Preventing EBV infection with a vaccine strategy may prevent the majority of people developing MS. May be admitting how bad MS is at a personal and population-level will get funders to put more money and resources into prevention.
I think we should call a spade a spade and forget the rose-tinted world most people like to live in. We need to take MS prevention seriously; we owe it the next generation of people who are destined to develop MS. Wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t get MS?
Wallach et al. Cognitive processing speed in pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis: Baseline characteristics of impairment and prediction of decline. Mult Scler. 2019 Nov 28:1352458519891984.
BACKGROUND: Cognitive impairment occurs in approximately one-third of pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis (POMS) patients. The Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), a widely used cognitive screen in adults, has yet to be incorporated early into the standard care of POMS.
OBJECTIVE: To screen for cognitive impairment early in the course of POMS and analyze predictive factors.
METHODS: Of the 955 POMS or clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) patients prospectively assessed from March 2014 to July 2018, 500 POMS and 116 CIS patients met inclusion criteria (disease onset before the age of 18, one or more SDMTs, and 8 years or older at the time of testing). Those with relapse were analyzed separately from those who were relapse-free.
RESULTS: At initial assessment, the mean (interquartile range (IQR)) age at symptom onset was 13.5 years (12.0, 15.9) and the mean (±SD) disease duration was 3.0 ± 2.9 years. Impaired processing speed occurred in 23.4% of POMS and in 16.4% of CIS. On serial testing (n = 383, mean follow-up: 1.8 years), 14.1% had clinically meaningful decline predicted by older age of multiple sclerosis (MS) onset and male gender. Disease relapse or steroid use led to transient worsening on the SDMT.
CONCLUSION: Early in the disease, some POMS and CIS patients are at risk for cognitive impairment and subsequent decline.