Memory Tricks for MS Patients

Multiple sclerosis patients benefit from Story Memory Technique

(RxWiki News) Have you ever gone to the grocery store and forgotten an item you went there to get? A technique used to improve learning and memory in multiple sclerosis patients may help you, too.

Researchers have completed two clinical trials testing a therapy for multiple sclerosis patients called the Story Memory Technique (SMT). It's a behavioral, non-medical therapy designed to help people learn new information. In both trials, patients scored better on memory tests and reported that their “everyday” memory improved after treatment.

"For memory problems, ask your doctor about the Story Memory Technique."

One of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) is cognitive, or brain impairments. Forty to 60 percent of MS patients have memory impairments. “What we found in research done in the 1990s is that they are having trouble learning new information,” Dr. Nancy Chiaravalloti told DailyRx in an interview.

Dr. Chiaravalloti led both trial studies, and serves as the Director of the Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Laboratory at Kessler Foundation Research Center.

Dr. Chiaravalloti said that the Story Memory Technique is designed to help people learn new information. “If you expose them to that information over and over and over again - more than you would a healthy person - they can learn it, they can remember it, and use it appropriately,” she said. “But they need more help initially learning new information.”

The Story Memory Technique is a combination of two methods of learning, Dr. Chiaravalloti explained. The first technique is visualizing information, or imagining words as pictures.

“A lot of what we do in our daily lives is based on verbal information, or words,” she said. “If you visualize information theoretically, you're engaging more brain regions in helping you learn that information.”

The second part is putting the information into a context. “If we put things in a larger context and relate them to each other, we remember them better than if we're remembering little pieces of information that aren't related to each other,” said Dr. Chiaravalloti. “It teaches people how to take unrelated information and put it into a unified context.”

The final step is to combine the two techniques. Dr. Chiaravalloti gave the example of remembering a grocery or to-do list. If a person has to go to the bank, pay the bills, and pick up dry cleaning, they combine all of those seemingly unrelated things into one image. Imagine a pile of bills lying in front of a bank, and the dry cleaning hanging on the door.

For a grocery list, imagine where the items belong in your cabinets. The mental image forms a context around the things a person needs to do, and facilitates memory.

Some doctors already use this technique, Dr. Chiaravalloti said, but until now, there hasn't been data to show how well it works in a larger group of patients, nor has there been evidence about the best way to implement the technique. “There's not a standardized treatment protocol,” she said.

However, in trials the treatment has had success. “We show data that shows people report their everyday memory to improve after treatment,” Dr. Chiaravalloti said. “The other thing we've also shown is that there are changes in the brain after treatment - the pattern of activation in the brain when a person is learning a list of words.

After treatment, people show significantly more activation in areas associated with visual processing and organization, whereas patients who don't undergo treatment show no change.”

Results from the first trial, with 28 patients, were published in 2005. A second, larger trial with nearly 100 patients has been completed, and the data will be published in 2012. The data that has been analyzed showed a similar outcome to the first trial.

Dr. Chiavaralli said that her research team hopes to get information about the benefits of the Story Memory Technique to clinicians to use with their patients. She's optimistic that by the spring, a standard treatment protocol will be established.

Dr. Chiavaralli's findings have been presented at the 2011 European and Americas Committees for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis.

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Review Date: 
November 18, 2011