Nursing Researchers Receive $2.2 Million NIH Grant for Multiple Sclerosis Cognitive Rehabilitation Study

Dec. 3, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas — Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, and Heather Becker, a research scientist at the school, have received a $2.2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to continue their study on improving the quality of life for people coping with multiple sclerosis (MS), particularly those with cognitive impairments.

“The effects of MS on cognition is thought to occur in 50 to 75 percent of persons with MS and are increasingly recognized as potentially the most disabling symptom of the disease,” Stuifbergen said. “Strategies to assist persons with MS to manage cognitive issues are desperately needed since the related impairment has major effects on work, family and social life.”

The purpose of the longitudinal study is to test an innovative eight-week intervention: Memory, Attention and Problem Solving Skills for persons with MS (MAPSS-MS). In a recently completed exploratory study by Stuifbergen and Becker with 61 participants, MAPSS-MS showed promise as a means to improve memory, use of compensatory strategies, and performance of cognitive and instrumental activities of daily living. The new study comprises 180 people with MS across multiple sites in Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

“To our knowledge, we were the first investigators to test a theoretically and empirically derived cognitive rehabilitation intervention that integrates the powerful effects of group interventions with individual home-based computer-assisted training,” Becker said. “If effective, the intervention will represent a new and feasible approach to solving a serious, debilitating problem commonly experienced by persons with MS.”

More than 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide live with multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system and the most common neurological disease of young adults. Preventing long-term disability, said Stuifbergen, is the most important goal of treatment, although work on empirically based treatment of cognitive deficits is in its infancy.

“Chronic disabling conditions like multiple sclerosis have profound and pervasive effects on the lives of millions of Americans,” Stuifbergen said. “Although rarely addressed, the need for cognitive rehabilitation exists for many persons with MS and may be a key factor to preserve quality of life.”

Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, and Heather Becker, a research scientist at the school, have received a $2.2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to continue their study on improving the quality of life for people coping with multiple sclerosis (MS), particularly those with cognitive impairments.

For more information, contact: Kathryn Wiley, School of Nursing, 512-471-9908.