The adverse health effects of stress induced exhaustion disorder (SED) cause increasing concern in Western societies. This disorder is characterized by severe fatigue, decreased tolerance to further stress, and attention and memory lapses. Despite subjective complaints, individual cognitive deficits are not always detected in a clinical setting, which calls for the validation of more sensitive instruments.
The objective of this study was to investigate if a short, tablet-based serial naming task, MapCog Spectra (MCS) could be used as a marker for cognitive problems in SED.
The study comprised of 39 subjects (35 females, four males) with SED. Their mean age was 46,8 years (SD 10.1; range 30–60 yrs.). All participants were healthcare professionals, with a college or university degree, doctors, registered nurses, and psychologists.
The MCS was used to assess the number of aberrant pauses during serial naming of coloured geometrical shapes. The Coding, Matrix Reasoning, Digit Span, Symbol Search of the WAIS-IV, and RUFF 2&7 tests, were administered together with a short interview.
Mean values were within normal reference limits for all tests, except for the MCS, which showed a significantly higher number of aberrant pauses (p < 0,001) in the SED group, compared to normal reference values. Although subjects performed within normal limits on the RUFF 2&7, a significant difference between individuals was found in the performance strategy of the participants.
Here we report that subjects with SED have performance deficits on the MCS, in terms of aberrant pause times, despite average performance on WAIS-IV tests measuring inductive reasoning, processing speed, working memory, and attention. We also demonstrate that subjects use different strategies to overcome their problems. These findings add to the growing evidence of cognitive deficits in SED and that the MCS might aid neuropsychologists in disentangling cognitive markers, important to substantiate the subjective complaints of affected individuals.