Memory in multiple sclerosis: A reappraisal using the item specific deficit approach

Michael R. Basso, Douglas Whiteside, Dennis Combs, Steven Paul Woods, Jordan Hoffmeister, Ryan Mulligan, Peter Arnett, Eva Alden, Oliver Tobin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: As many as 65% of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have clinically significant memory impairment, but the nature of this deficit is controversial. Some investigations suggest that an inability to retrieve newly learned information from memory is prominent, whereas others imply that compromised acquisition accounts for impairment. Prior research has not simultaneously evaluated acquisition and retrieval processes in MS, and fewer have attempted to account for initial acquisition when studying retrieval. The Item Specific Deficit Approach (ISDA) offers a method of quantifying acquisition, retrieval, and retention processes, with the latter two mechanisms being adjusted for initial acquisition. To simultaneously quantify acquisition and retrieval abilities, the ISDA was applied to list learning performance in two independent samples of people with MS and corresponding healthy comparison groups. PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS: Study 1 included 85 people with MS and 47 healthy individuals. Study 2 involved a separate sample of 79 people with MS and 22 healthy people. They were administered neuropsychological batteries, and participants with MS were classified as globally impaired or unimpaired. The California Verbal Learning Test-II was administered to assess new-learning in both studies, and responses were scored using the ISDA. RESULTS: Both studies revealed that cognitively impaired people with MS manifest weaknesses involving acquisition and retrieval. Nearly identical effect sizes emerged across samples, with cognitive impairment achieving a medium effect upon acquisition and a large effect upon retrieval. CONCLUSIONS: These findings accord well with previous research showing diminished acquisition and retrieval among people with MS. The results may also reconcile contradictory findings in the extant literature by showing that memory impairment in MS is not exclusively attributable to either acquisition or retrieval. Rather, both processes may manifest across people with MS. The replication across samples with nearly identical effect sizes implies that these effects are reliable and possess external validity. These data hold implications for memory rehabilitation interventions involving people with MS, and suggest that acquisition and retrieval processes should be addressed in treatment. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-219
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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