Abstract: Distraction as a key determinant of impaired memory in patients with fibromyalgia

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J Rheumatol. 2006 Jan;33(1):127-32.

Leavitt F, Katz RS.

From the Department of Psychology and Section of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine, Rush Medical College, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

OBJECTIVE: Patients with fibromyalgia (FM) frequently complain of poor memory, severe enough to affect job performance and to lead to disability. Yet common practices in neurocognitive examinations often fail to document cognitive abnormalities that match the severity of their memory complaints.

Often, neuropsychologists gauge memory competence with measures free of distraction and produce high rates of normality on neurocognitive examination. We hypothesized that neurocognitive tests encoded with a source of stimulus competition that interferes with the processing and/or absorption of information would be better than others in gauging FM memory competence.

METHODS: Thirty-five patients with FM and 35 controls, matched for age and sex, and presenting with complaints of memory loss, completed cognitive measures with and without stimulus competition.

RESULTS: Eleven (31.4%) patients with FM showed impairment on at least one measure of memory encoded free of stimulus competition. By comparison, 30 (85.7%) showed impairment on at least one measure encoded with a source of stimulus competition. The Auditory Consonant Trigram detected impairment in 29 (82.6%) cases, and was by far the most sensitive measure. FM patients lost information at a 58% rate following a 9 second distraction. This loss was disproportionate to the loss shown by both age matched controls with memory problems (40%) and to normative values (20%) based on individuals free of memory problems.

CONCLUSION: The findings validate the perception of failing memory in patients with FM and are the first psychometric based evidence to our knowledge of short-term memory problems in FM linked to interference from a source of distraction. Adding a source of distraction caused the majority of FM patients to retain new information poorly, and may be integral to an understanding of FM memory problems. Much needs to be learned about why new information is disproportionately lost by FM populations when a source of distraction enters the experiential field.

PMID: 16395760 [PubMed – in process]

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