Inability to Recognize and Convey Emotion a Symptom of MS

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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What may be overlooked in relating to and caring for patients with multiple sclerosis is the fact that the neurodegenerative disease sometimes affects a person’s ability to properly convey and perceive emotion. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), while there is not enough conclusive evidence to suggest the disease directly affects emotion, it is important to consider that MS patients may either be struggling to cope with the disease, or are physiologically affected by it, making perception and expression beyond their control.

Aside from the loss of the ability to recognize the appropriate emotion behind certain expressions, a new study from the International School of Advanced Studies (Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati or SISSA) in Italy now suggests MS patients have an increased difficulty interpreting emotions expressed through one’s posture, countenance, and comportment. Additionally, the study suggests these issues are caused by the patient’s inability to identify his or her own emotions, which is a phenomenon termed as alexithymia, and is observed in some MS patients.

“The finding on posture is new, and even though this symptom is less pronounced than the inability to read facial expressions, it is nonetheless important. Studies on the identification of expressions in neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis are important,” said Marilena Aiello, researcher, Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati. “In this type of disease the relationship between patients and carers is crucial to guarantee the patient the best quality of life. It’s thus vital to identify the factors that may influence and improve this relationship.”

Lead author Cinzia Cecchetto, and SISSA neuroscientist and coordinator, Raffaella Rumiati are fellow SISSA researchers who assisted Aiello in conducting this study and bringing it to completion and publication in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

Qualitative studies underscore the importance of comprehensive healthcare that focuses not merely on treating the disease, but on patients’ overall wellness. A study from the Kessler Foundation suggests a 10-week wellness program led to several improvements in MS patients, notably in their mood, mental health, perceived stress, and pain. The study is published online as “Development and effectiveness of a psychoeducational wellness group for individuals living with MS: Description and outcomes” in the International Journal of MS Care.

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