Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine in the US have created an app to enable fast and easy assessment of cognitive function in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

The tablet-based app, iCAMS, has been designed for use by healthcare professionals who have had no specialised training.

MS is a chronic disease that impacts the central nervous system. It causes motor issues, visual disturbance, fatigue, memory and concentration problems and mood changes.

A 100-patient study demonstrated that the new app delivered accurate results for cognitive assessment when compared to a conventional, paper-based tool. iCAMS also decreased the test duration from 23 to 14 minutes.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine physical medicine and rehabilitation assistant professor Meghan Beier said: “Results suggest that using the iCAMS app may make cognitive assessments of multiple sclerosis more convenient in a clinic setting and therefore will be used more often to identify learning and memory problems.”

Beier added that up to 65% of MS patients suffer from cognitive issues, including the requirement of more time for mental tasks, as well as difficulty in learning and retaining new information.

Early detection of such cognitive problems is expected to preserve and also improve function by using targeted interventions such as cognitive rehabilitation.

Existing paper-based assessment tools require specialised training and are considered time-consuming.

To address these challenges, the researchers altered an MS cognitive assessment tool known as Brief International Cognitive Assessment for Multiple Sclerosis (BICAMS), to a digital tablet format.

BICAMS consists of three subtests, to monitor processing speed, the memorisation of verbal instructions and the ability to learn visual information.

iCAMS features the processing and visual learning tests, replacing the verbal learning test with a comparable alternative. The app provides automatic prompts and written guidelines to enable healthcare professionals to guide patients through the assessment.

Researchers are currently testing the app on a large scale in more diverse populations. They also intend to make the app more user-friendly.