Sensory-Motor and Affective-Fatigue Factors are Associated with Symbol Digit Performance in Multiple Sclerosis

Peter A. Arnett, Margaret Cadden, Cristina A.F. Roman, Erin Guty, Kaitlin Riegler, Garrett Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objectives: The oral Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) has become the standard for the brief screening of cognitive impairment in persons with multiple sclerosis (PwMS). It has been shown to be sensitive to sensory-motor factors involving rudimentary oral motor speed and visual acuity, as well as multiple sclerosis (MS) affective-fatigue factors including depression, fatigue, and anxiety. The present study was designed to provide a greater understanding of these noncognitive factors that might contribute to the oral SDMT by examining all these variables in the same sample. Methods: We examined 50 PwMS and 49 healthy controls (HCs). All participants were administered the oral SDMT, two sensory-motor tasks (visual acuity and oral motor speed), and three affective-fatigue measures (depression, fatigue, and anxiety). Results: Partially consistent with hypotheses, we found that sensory-motor skills, but not affective-fatigue factors, accounted for some of the group differences between the MS and HC groups on the oral SDMT, reducing the MS/HC group variance predicted from 10% to 4%. Also, PwMS with below average sensory-motor abilities had oral SDMT scores that were lower than PwMS with intact sensory-motor skills (p <.05). Finally, 71% of PwMS in the below-average sensory-motor group were impaired on the oral SDMT compared with 14% of the intact group (p =.006). Conclusions: When the oral SDMT is used as the sole screening tool for cognitive impairment in MS, clinicians should know that limitations in visual acuity and rudimentary oral motor speed should be considered as possibly being associated with performance on it in MS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-370
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 23 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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