Research abstract:


Neurocognitive difficulties are commonly reported by patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Moderate improvements from ‘best practice’ therapy are promising, but to date reported efficacy is based entirely on subjective measures. This is problematic, given the well-documented divergence between subjective perceptions and actual neurocognitive performance, including in this patient group.


Subjective and objective measures of neurocognitive performance were obtained from 25 patients with well-characterised CFS before and after the completion of a 12-week graded-activity program incorporating a cognitive training component. Additionally, self-reported symptoms, cardiac autonomic activity (a relevant biomarker of stress responsivity), and their relation to neurocognitive improvements were examined.


Substantive post-intervention improvements in subjective (p=0.006) and objective (including faster responses speeds and greater accuracy, p’s<0.001) neurocognitive performance were documented. Participants also demonstrated reduced autonomic reactivity to the cognitive challenge at follow-up (p’s≤0.01). These improvements were accompanied by improvements in symptom ratings (p’s≤0.01). However, subjective ratings of neurocognitive difficulties, and CFS-related symptoms were not linked to objective performance improvements.


These initial data provide the first evidence of objective neurocognitive performance improvements accompanied by a significant reduction in responsiveness in stress-related neural pathways consequent to cognitive-behavioural/ graded exercise therapy programs. These findings provide support for the effectiveness of such programs in remediating clinical status. These promising findings warrant further investigation, including replication in a larger sample utilising more controlled study designs.

Neurocognitive improvements after best-practice intervention for chronic fatigue syndrome: Preliminary evidence of divergence between objective indices and subjective perceptions, by Erin Cvejice, Andrew R. Lloyd, Uté Vollmer-Conna in Comprehensive Psychiatry, published online 9 February 2016.

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