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Memory and attention problems in children with chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalopathy


Objective: To understand more about the problems children with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or myalgic encephalopathy (ME) experience with memory and attention, and to test the feasibility of quantitative measurement of both memory and attention.

Design: Four-item semistructured questionnaire and neuropsychological test battery with 10 psychometric subtests.

Setting: Family home of the child taking part.

Patients: 20 children with a diagnosis of CFS/ME experiencing memory and/or concentration problems were recruited between April and October 2007 from a regional CFS/ME clinical service (female 13; average age 13.5 years; range 8–16).

Methods: Each child, parent and teacher was asked to describe the child’s memory and attention problems. Responses were subject to thematic analysis by two independent researchers. In addition, each child completed a battery of 10 tests to measure: processing speed; attention; immediate and delayed memory; working memory; executive function. Raw scores were converted into age-scaled scores and the children’s psychometric scores on the 10 tests taken were compared with normative data using t tests.

Results: Children with CFS/ME, their parents and teachers described problems with focussed attention, sustained attention, recall and stress. Scores for sustained attention (mean 8.1, 95% CI 6.3 to 9.9), switching attention (7.5, 5.5 to 9.4), divided attention (6.9, 5.5 to 8.2), auditory learning (8.2, 6.8 to 9.6) and immediate recall (8.7, 7.3 to 10.0) appeared lower than the normative mean of 10.

Conclusions: Children with CFS/ME appear to experience problems with attention, which may have adverse implications for verbal memory. These cognitive problems may explain some of the educational difficulties associated with CFS.

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