Fibromyalgia (FM) patients perform similarly in cognitive tests compared to healthy controls, despite the condition’s effects. A recent report by researchers at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Academic College, in Israel, shows that FM patients actually put in extra effort to perform during tests thanks to a phenomenon called ‘rising to the occasion’.
Results of the study were published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, in the study “Cognitive functioning in fibromyalgia: The central role of effort.”
FM is a debilitating disease characterized by chronic widespread pain, fatigue and depression. But patients often report other symptoms, such as cognitive impairment (foggy brain) particularly in memory and concentration, which may lead to more pronounced feelings of incapacity than the pain of the condition itself.
Several studies that access cognition, including neuropsychological tests; verbal and visual memory tests; and attention and short-term memory tests, have reported that FM patients perform much the same as otherwise healthy people.
For the current study, researchers attempted to determine if FM patients exert extra effort during tests. All other FM-related symptoms which impact cognition, especially pain, fatigue, and depression, were considered.
Fifty patients, with a mean age of 42 years, were enrolled. All were assessed first for cognitive function with the NeuroTraxTM test which tests memory, attention, executive function, and speed of processing; and with the TOMM (Test of Memory Malingering) to measure effort.
Cognitive scores for memory, attention, and speed of information processing were all lower than those found in the general population. But, among the participants, only 16 percent showed little effort and lower scores in all cognitive tests, compared to those who successfully passed the TOMM.
The study concluded: “The findings confirm impaired attention and processing speed in FM patients, independent of effort level. Nonetheless, the findings point to a general and strong effect of effort on neuropsychological performance in FM patients, especially in the domain of memory, emphasizes the importance of effort testing in this population.”