Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is characterized by persistent emotional, mental, and physical fatigue accompanied by a range of neurological, autonomic, neuroendocrine, immune, and sleep problems. Research has shown that psychosocial factors such as anxiety and depression as well as the symptoms of the illness, have a significant impact on the quality of life of people with ME/CFS. In addition, individuals may suffer from deficits in memory and concentration. This study set out to explore the relationships between variables which have been found to contribute to cognitive performance, as measured by prospective and retrospective memory, and cognitive failures.
Eighty-seven people with ME/CFS answered questionnaires measuring fatigue, depression, anxiety, social support, and general self-efficacy. These were used in a correlational design (multiple regression) to predict cognitive function (self-ratings on prospective and retrospective memory), and cognitive failures.
Our study found that fatigue, depression, and general self-efficacy were directly associated with cognitive failures and retrospective (but not prospective) memory.
Although it was not possible in this study to determine the cause of the deficits, the literature in this area leads us to suggest that although the pathophysiological mechanisms of ME/CFS are unclear, abnormalities in the immune system, including proinflammatory cytokines, can lead to significant impairments in cognition. We suggest that fatigue and depression may be a result of the neurobiological effects of ME/CFS and in addition, that the neurobiological effects of the illness may give rise to both fatigue and cognitive deficits independently.