Background: Although a growing body of evidence has highlighted the role of cognitive rehabilitation (CR) in the management of cognitive dysfunctions in multiple sclerosis (MS), there is still no evidence for a validated therapeutic approach.
Objective: We propose a new therapeutic strategy characterized by a computer-based intensive attention training program in MS patients with predominant attention deficits. We aim to investigate the effectiveness of our rehabilitation procedure, tailored for those with impaired abilities, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Methods: Using a double-blind randomized controlled study, we enrolled 12 MS patients, who underwent a CR program (experimental group), and 11 age-gender-matched MS patients, who underwent a placebo intervention (control group). fMRI was recorded during the execution of a cognitive task broadly used for assessing attention abilities in MS patients (paced visual serial addition test).
Results: Significant effects were detected both at a phenotypic and at an intermediate phenotypic level. After CR, the experimental group, in comparison with the control group, showed a specific enhanced performance in attention abilities as assessed by the Stroop task with an effect size of 0.88, which was associated with increased activity in the posterior cerebellar lobule and in the superior parietal lobule.
Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that intensive CR tailored for those with impaired abilities affects neural plasticity and improves some aspects of cognitive deficits in MS patients. The reported neurophysiological and behavioral effects corroborate the benefits of our therapeutic approach, which might have a reliable application in the clinical management of cognitive deficits in MS.