Social Networks May Be a Modifiable Risk Factor for MS Progression

Using social network surveys to identify patients with stronger vs weaker social networks (SNs), researchers found that persons with multiple sclerosis (MS) who had significantly worse memory, lower IQ, higher disability scores and larger declines in exercise and social activity participation (P = .005 for memory, P < .001 for all other measures). After adjusting for IQ, a trend in memory differences remained, but was not statistically significant. Using a principal components analysis to derive an SN factor, worse memory, lower IQ, less exercise, and fewer social activities correlated with low SN factor.

These results suggest that a strong SN can improve memory and help maintain leisure activity participation. It is possible that a strong social network is a modifiable lifestyle factor that contributes to cognitive reserve. This may also be a useful outcome variable for studies of cognitive treatments for persons with MS.

For this study, 49 patients completed surveys about their social networks. Variables of size, maximum and mean degree of relationships, density, effective size, and constraints were used to classify each person’s network as strong or weak. The strong cluster (n = 35) had larger networks, effective size, and density with fewer constraints. All patients age, sex, education, IQ, Expanded Disability State (EDSS) score, T2 lesion volume, atrophy, memory, performance on the symbol digit modality test (SDMT) fine motor function, depression, fatigue, and leisure activities were measured and scored in cognitive, social, and exercise domains for analysis of any relationship with social network strength and score. These data were presented at the American Conference on Treatment and Research in MMS (ACTRIMS) conference in Dallas, TX February 28-March 1.

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