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Multiple Sclerosis Patients May Struggle To Understand How Others Feel

June 1, 2017

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) suffer a wide range of symptoms, both physical and mental. These symptoms can affect the brain, spinal cord, and vision. However, a new study shows that MS patients may also suffer from an impaired ability to understand how others feel, which may be tied to subtle brain changes. The study was published in the online issue of Neurology. Researchers studied social cognition within a group of 60 people with MS and 60 healthy individuals. 50 of the subjects had relapsing-remitting MS while the others had secondary progressive MS. The scores were related to how much damage the patient had sustained in a part of the brain, known as the social brain.

The tests measured the theory of mind skills, which is the ability to understand how others’ mental states, including beliefs and desires, may be different from one’s own. One of the tests involved facial photographs. Participants had to select a word that best described the person’s emotion in the photo. Another test involved silent video clips of people interacting, where the participants had to choose the best word to describe the conversation. Results showed that those with MS had lower scores on two tests that determine how well they could interpret others’ emotions, including beliefs and desires. In addition to the mind tests, all of the participants had various types of brain scans. The researchers found that the test results of the MS patients weren’t related to how long they had the disease, but rather the degree of damage each participant had in a specific region of the brain.

According to study author Sonia Batista, understanding how MS affects the social brain has not been well studied. It’s important for people to be able to interpret and understand people’s feelings, resulting in good skills to maintain relationships with others. She further notes that there needs to be more research to understand how social problems affect people with MS.