Duchenne muscular dystrophy : a genetic, cognitive and psychosocial approach

Geisemeyer, Sarah (2017) Duchenne muscular dystrophy : a genetic, cognitive and psychosocial approach. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a severe, progressive muscle wasting disorder that affects 1 in 3600 male births. It is caused by genetic mutations in the dystrophin gene. This study investigated several aspects of the neuromuscular disorder within a population of Brazilian DMD boys and their families. This study's framework was laid out within the prism of an interacting cycle of genetic factors, cognitive functioning, and psychosocial aspects that underlie the neuromuscular disorder. It focuses on DMD's aetiology, history and previous research on genetic, cognitive and psychosocial aspects. Mixed methods were adopted to allow for a more encompassing view of the neuromuscular disorder: cognitive tests, an emotion recognition battery, genetic analyses, well-being questionnaires, and interviews were applied. Correspondent, quantitative and qualitative data analysis was carried out. The findings of 32 DMD patients (mean age 10.4 years, SD= 2 years) and 31 control subjects (mean age 9.4 years, SD= 3 years) revealed severe cognitive dysfunctioning in all assessed cognitive domains in the DMD population, as well as in the ability of emotion recognition. In the DMD group, it could be shown that poor executive functioning stood in a positive correlation with a poor ability of emotion recognition. The DMD patients' cognitive phenotypes were correlated with the genetic mutations in their dystrophin gene, but no relationship between the patients' genotype and cognitive phenotype could be confirmed. These results were contrary to previous research, which suggested that specific mutations in the dystrophin gene cause cognitive impairment. The DMD group scored poorly on the emotion recognition task, which is also a characteristic of autism spectrum disorder. However, when diagnosing for autistic characteristics through means of an interview, only a few similarities between the two disorders could be found. In order to assess the psychosocial components that come along with the disorder, well-being questionnaires were supplied. Interestingly, DMD boys scored higher on well-being than the boys in the control group. Moreover, 30 of the DMD caregivers (mean age app. 31 years) also revealed high levels of well-being, which correlated positively with the well-being of their sons, suggesting high levels of resilience. Given the participants' socio-economic hardship and the lack of governmental help, it was concluded that participants showed an incredible level of resilience that most likely resided within their faith, which nearly all of them stated to be the reason for their strength to strive. The relevant and new information about cognitive, genetic and social aspects of DMD uncovered in this study will pave the way for further (and much needed) studies into psychosocial aspects of the disorder.

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