MS Research Translated: How Physical Ability Affects Social Participation

by Crystal R. Mendoza Paulin

Your resident nerd is back again serving up some freshly translated science just for you! This study is an interesting one, so hold on for this wild ride.

Researchers rationalized that individuals severely affected with fatigue would have a lower physical ability than their healthy peers.

Various studies have already researched increased fatigue in persons living with multiple sclerosis. However, a group of researchers from the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine of VU University Medical Center and the MS Center Amsterdam wanted to study how fatigue affects social participation. Measuring fatigue is very difficult to do objectively. Most researchers rely on a self-assessment from subjects; thus, data regarding fatigue levels is subjective in nature and not as compelling in the realm of science. To combat this, researchers focused on physical ability rather than fatigue. Why is this a permissible substitution? Researchers rationalized that individuals severely affected with fatigue would have a lower physical ability than their healthy peers. They also hypothesized that individuals with a greater physical ability would be better equipped for daily life and participate in more social functions.

The purpose of this study was to determine if physical ability affects social participation and functioning in daily living. Researchers used 62 subjects from a larger ongoing MS study to conduct their test. Participants performed a cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET) to determine their individual physical ability. (A CPET is a stress test that is designed to figure out an individual’s upper aerobic exercise limit.) Basically, participants would slowly increase their speed on an exercise bike over time until they could no longer do so. (The test is done over 10 – 15 minutes and is perfectly safe.) Researchers also monitored heart and breathing rates during the test. Finally, participants were asked to complete three different questionnaires about their daily physical and social activities.

So what did the results from these tests tell researchers? The physical ability of the individuals living with MS was indeed lower than the ability of their healthy peers. This was true even after researchers controlled for age and sex. (Aka a 45-year-old healthy woman performed better on the CPET than a 45-year-old woman living with MS.) There were some conflicting links between physical abiltity and the questionnaires; however, those with lower physical ability scores typically had lower “social life and relationships” assessments.

Fatigue impacts physical ability in individuals living with MS which further impacts their participation in social functions.

So what does it all mean? Fatigue impacts physical ability in individuals living with MS which further impacts their participation in social functions. This may sound very elementary, but it is extremely important to have data that backs up even the most simple assumption. No other study has ever attempted to study the effects of fatigue on social participation. The research method for this study was not perfect, as questionnaires are subjective by their nature, but established a groundwork that invites further study in this area.

I hope this was useful for you to understand this pioneering study! If you are interested in reading the research paper in full, you can read it here for free. Of course, if you have any questions about any of this, feel free to leave a comment below!