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Balancing the Demands of Two Tasks: An Investigation of Cognitive–Motor Dual-Tasking in Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis

  • Emma Butchard-MacDonald (a1), Lorna Paul (a2) and Jonathan J. Evans (a1)

Background: People with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (PwRRMS) suffer disproportionate decrements in gait under dual-task conditions, when walking and a cognitive task are combined. There has been much less investigation of the impact of cognitive demands on balance. Objectives: This study investigated whether: (1) PwRRMS show disproportionate decrements in postural stability under dual-task conditions compared to healthy controls, and (2) dual-task decrements are associated with everyday dual-tasking difficulties. The impact of mood, fatigue, and disease severity on dual-tasking was also examined. Methods: A total of 34 PwRRMS and 34 matched controls completed cognitive (digit span) and balance (movement of center of pressure on Biosway on stable and unstable surfaces) tasks under single- and dual-task conditions. Everyday dual-tasking was measured using the Dual-Tasking Questionnaire. Mood was measured by the Hospital Anxiety & Depression Scale. Fatigue was measured via the Modified Fatigue Index Scale. Results: No differences in age, gender, years of education, estimated pre-morbid IQ, or baseline digit span between groups. Compared with controls, PwRRMS showed significantly greater decrement in postural stability under dual-task conditions on an unstable surface (p=.007), but not a stable surface (p=.679). Balance decrement scores were not correlated with everyday dual-tasking difficulties or fatigue. Stable surface balance decrement scores were significantly associated with levels of anxiety (rho=0.527; p=.001) and depression (rho=0.451; p=.007). Conclusions: RRMS causes dual-tasking difficulties, impacting balance under challenging conditions, which may contribute to increased risk of gait difficulties and falls. The relationship between anxiety/depression and dual-task decrement suggests that emotional factors may be contributing to dual-task difficulties. (JINS, 2018, 24, 247–258)

Corresponding author
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Jonathan J. Evans, Mental Health & Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, Gartnaval Royal Hospital, 1055 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G12 0XH. E-mail:
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