The relation between memory and decision-making in Multiple Sclerosis patients

Janina Hoffmann, Lena Bareuther, Roger Schmidt, Christian Dettmers

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Background. Impairments in long-term and working memory are widespread in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), setting on in early disease stages. These memory impairments may limit patients’ ability to take informed and competent medical decisions, too. In healthy populations, memory abilities predict decision quality across a wide range of tasks. These studies suggest that higher working memory capacity supports decisions in cognitively taxing tasks, whereas better semantic memory facilitates decisions in tasks requiring knowledge retrieval. In individuals with MS, previous studies have linked less accurate decisions to memory deficits and reduced executive functioning, too. However, these studies focussed on decisions under risk and did not broadly assess decision making skills. We aimed to fill this gap in a cross-sectional study. Methods. Hundred thirty-seven participants with MS were recruited during their stay in an MS specialized rehabilitation centre. In a first test session, participants completed a standardized test battery for working memory and semantic memory, the inventory for memory diagnostics. In a second test session, participants filled out the Adult Decision Making Competence battery (A-DMC). This version of the A-DMC measured decision making competence on five subscales: Resistance to Framing Effects, Under/Overconfidence, Applying Decision Rules, Consistency in Risk Perception, and Resistance to Sunk Cost Effects. In addition, participants were screened for depression and cognitive fatigue. Results. Working memory was impaired in most participants, whereas semantic memory was not impaired. To understand which memory abilities underlie distinct components of decision making in people with MS, we used structural equation modelling. Replicating previous findings in a healthy sample, working memory capacity was associated with the ability to recall semantic knowledge. Participants with lower working memory capacity were less resistant to framing effects and adhered to decision rules less. In contrast, participants with worse semantic memory assessed their own knowledge less accurately, perceived risks less consistently, and made more errors in applying decision rules. Cognitive fatigue and depression unlikely explain these relationships. Conclusions. Taken together, our study suggests that the memory problems, frequently reported in MS patients, may reach out to higher-order cognitive functions, such as decision making skills. Supporting shared decision-making and patient autonomy within MS thus requires to take memory impairments into account and to match the information provided to the patient’s memory abilities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101433
Number of pages7
JournalMultiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders
Early online date5 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Choice behavior
  • Decision making
  • Long-term memory
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Shared decision making
  • Short-term memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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