Cognitive impairment in multiple sclerosis: clinical management, MRI, and therapeutic avenues

Lancet Neurol. 2020 Oct;19(10):860-871. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(20)30277-5. Epub 2020 Sep 16.


Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, demyelinating disease of the CNS. Cognitive impairment is a sometimes neglected, yet common, sign and symptom with a profound effect on instrumental activities of daily living. The prevalence of cognitive impairment in multiple sclerosis varies across the lifespan and might be difficult to distinguish from other causes in older age. MRI studies show that widespread changes to brain networks contribute to cognitive dysfunction, and grey matter atrophy is an early sign of potential future cognitive decline. Neuropsychological research suggests that cognitive processing speed and episodic memory are the most frequently affected cognitive domains. Narrowing evaluation to these core areas permits brief, routine assessment in the clinical setting. Owing to its brevity, reliability, and sensitivity, the Symbol Digit Modalities Test, or its computer-based analogues, can be used to monitor episodes of acute disease activity. The Symbol Digit Modalities Test can also be used in clinical trials, and data increasingly show that cognitive processing speed and memory are amenable to cognitive training interventions.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / therapy
  • Disease Management*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / therapy