Background: A subset of individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) endures degradation of cognitive function during disease progression. The purpose of this study was to compare visual cognitive reaction time performance during three conditions of auditory distraction (four-talker babble; word repetition; babble combined with word repetition) to a quiet, undistracted condition.
Methods: Twenty-two patients with mild relapsing-remitting MS (Expanded Disability Status Scale mean of 3.0) and 17 age-matched and education-matched control subjects free of neurologic disease were tested on four cognitive visual processing subtests of simple reaction time, choice reaction time, and visual working memory for same and sequential digits concurrently during three conditions of auditory distraction.
Results: When reaction times for MS and control participants were pooled across all four cognitive tests, the scores of the MS patients in quiet (528 ms) were significantly slower than those of the control subjects (459 ms). The auditory distraction condition of word repetition combined with four-talker babble degraded cognitive performance more than most of the other distraction conditions in both groups.
Conclusions: Even in mild MS, subtle visual cognitive processing deficits may be elicited by auditory distraction.