The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on an international rehabilitation study in MS: the CogEx experience
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Pandemic restrictions have led to changes in therapy plans and disrupted rehabilitation services for people with multiple sclerosis. CogEx is an international, multicentre MS dual-intervention (cognitive rehabilitation, aerobic exercise) randomized, controlled rehabilitation trial confined to people with progressive disease. The primary outcome is cognition (processing speed).There are 11 treatment sites in six countries with participants required to make 27 site visits over 12 weeks. Collectively, the large, in-person demands of the trial, and the varying international policies for the containment of COVID-19, might disproportionately impact the administration of CogEx. During the first lockdown, all centres closed on average for 82.9 (SD = 24.3) days. One site was required to lockdown on two further occasions. One site remained closed for 16 months. Ten staff (19.2%) were required to quarantine and eight staff (15.4%) tested positive for COVID. 10 of 264 (3.8%) participants acquired COVID-19. All survived. The mean duration of enrollment delay has been [236.7 (SD = 214.5) days]. Restarting participants whose interventions were interrupted by the pandemic meant recalculating the intervention prescriptions for these individuals. While the impact of the pandemic on CogEx has been considerable, all study sites are again open. Participants and staff have shown considerable flexibility and resilience in keeping a complex, international endeavour running. The future in general remains uncertain in the midst of a pandemic, but there is cautious optimism the study will be completed with sufficient sample size to robustly evaluate our hypothesis and provide meaningful results to the MS community on the impact of these interventions on people with progressive MS.Trial registration: The trial was registered on September 20th 2018 at www.clinicaltrials.gov having identifier NCT03679468. Registration was performed before recruitment was initiated.
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