Cognitive impairment is characterized by changes in reasoning and thinking, and can involve difficulties in remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect daily life.
About half of people with MS experience cognitive changes. These may start early, and may be independent of physical disability.
Cognitive rehabilitation has been proposed as a way to slow down cognitive impairment in MS patients, although it has produced mixed results.
Recent studies have assessed the effect of computer-based cognitive rehabilitation, and found significant improvements in several mental functions, including attention and verbal learning.
The efficacy of cognitive rehabilitation is also supported by functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies that showed improvements in neural connections in patients with MS.
In a study recently published in the Journal of Neurology, Italian researchers created a computer-based cognitive rehabilitation program for cognitively impaired patients with relapsing-remitting MS.
Thirty-two patients received computer-aided cognitive rehabilitation twice a week for eight weeks, for 50 minutes each time.
The researchers found that these patients showed significant improvements in attention, processing speed, and visual and verbal memory performances.
Based on these results, the researchers propose that a more extensive computer rehabilitation program should be initiated early in the disease course when brain structural damage is not advanced, thereby allowing brain or cognitive reserve to build up that may protect people with MS from cognitive decline.