Cognitive Toll of MS Can Include Ability to Handle Personal Finances, Study Finds

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personal finances and MS

People with multiple sclerosis, especially those with cognitive disabilities, have more problems managing their personal finances — paying bills on time or using a credit card — than those without this disease, researchers report in the study, “Money Management Activities in Persons With Multiple Sclerosis,” published in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

MS, an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, is typically associated with physical impairments but can also have a significant impact on cognitive abilities.  More than 50% of MS patients exhibit difficulties in learning and memory, attention, information processing speed, executive functions (also known as cognitive control, the set of mental tools that enable us to plan, focus our attention, and remember instructions), and in visuospatial skills (needed to perceive objects and the spatial relationships among them).

A crucial skill in everyday life and to independent living is the ability to manage one’s own finances. Money management is a complex task, needing both solid attention and speed-processing skills, and can be particularly difficult people with the cognitive impairments associated with MS.

Researchers set out to investigate two questions: whether individuals with MS experience more problems in managing finances compared with those without MS, and what conditions may contribute to these difficulties.

To this end, the team performed a cross-sectional study
 (a type of observational study that analyzes and compares data collected from a population, or a representative subset, at one time point or over a short period of time) with MS patients recruited at a nonprofit rehabilitation research institution; as controls, researchers recruited persons without MS from the community.

In total, the study included 30 MS adult patients and 23 healthy controls. Participants underwent several neuropsychological tests, including tests for learning and memory, executive functions, processing speed and working memory, and depression and anxiety; a money management survey; and a functional test to assess money management skills.

Results showed that, indeed, MS patients reported more problems in managing money, and showed greater levels of difficulty in handling actual money management tasks when compared to control individuals. Importantly, and in agreement with the researchers’ hypothesis, MS patients reported (on the survey) significant problems managing their finances: forgetting bills to paid and, as a consequence, being faced with debts, and needing to borrow money or use an automatic teller machine.

With performance-based money management tasks, MS patients had a significant higher rate of errors when compared to controls, showing significantly more credit card errors and taking considerably more time to complete a task (purchasing cookies over the internet).

Moreover, researchers observed that money management errors were significantly associated with all cognitive measure scores, with MS patients showing slower processing, memory impairments, and impaired executive functions. Finally, the team also observed that patients’ self-reported functional status significantly correlated with their self-reported money management skills.

Overall, results showed that patients with MS exhibit significant problems in money management, a crucial activity of daily living. Researchers highlight that this is the first study examining money management skills and MS, and that these results support the use of practical, real-world tasks to assess cognitive function and to promote rehabilitation.

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  1. Phil Longford says:

    Do not bank with NatWest, if you have MS! As this article states, as well as affecting ones ability to work, other priorities and abilities change. When I explained that my ability to work was being affected by my MS, instead of being helpful, they freaked out! Sensing that I had become a liability, they wanted to cancel overdraft facility and credit card. I suggested they were in breach of the disability protection laws. They countered that it would be discriminatory, if they treated me any different from any other customer, by giving me any preferential treatment. I was able to clear all borrowing, which is a great relief, and have employed people to do the work, that I am no longer able to do. I have not bothered to change from NatWest, simply because I suspect all the other banks, act the same way. If you do know of a bank that are not total dipsticks (trying to be more polite than usual, here!) let us know.

  2. Betty Beem says:

    Although I do not think I have significant cognitive issues as a result of my MS, I have had a history of financial issues associated as a result of MS. Several years before MS forced my early retirement, I began to experiencing difficulty with my financial responsibilities. I would come home from a demanding job teaching academically advanced students in an elementary setting overwhelmed by MS fatigue. Actually, it began before I left school. On most days I had to rest to get enough energy to walk to my car parked within 25 feet of my room. After driving the less than 6 miles to my home, I had to wait until I had the strength to open the gates to my home. Once inside I would drop by the kitchen to grab a yoghurt or something similar as I was moving to the bedroom to drop into bed, often sleeping in my clothes. My alarm would ring at 5 am to take medication for fatigue. Usually by 6 I would be able to dress, feed my dog and cat, and leave for the day. During this time I did not read one book as I physically did not have the energy to hold it up or even prop it up to read. I went to the grocery store once a month on a legal holiday or teacher work day. Weekends were spent resting in bed. Not once was I able to go out to dinner, go to church, or engage in any social activities. Christmas, Easter, and summer vacations were spent writing curriculum covering the state mandated curriculum on a reading level 4 to 5 years about my grade level. I was unable to secure another teaching position and my neurologist at that time was totally inaccessible. A friend would bring in my mail which I did not have the energy to open. I sought assistance but was unsuccessful.
    Once I retired and moved to a large city in another state, my ability to fulfill my financial responsibilities improved. I still have difficulty in that in my subdivision there is no home delivery of mail. Instead community mailboxes are used. Mine is located about three quarters of a block away. On days when I have fatigue, I am unable to retrieve my mail. Even driving to my mailbox is not a viable option. There have been also times when, in the midst of an exacerbation or recuperating from one, that the simple act of getting my mail is not simple at all. Visually issues as a result of MS exacerbations have also been a contributing factor. There are also other issues the chronically ill face that make fulfilling these responsibilities an almost task.

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