Moebius Syndrome

A smile means happiness, a frown sadness, and a raised brow surprise. Even when languages and cultures differ, people have this universal form of communication. However, Moebius syndrome can rob people of this basic connection, affecting social interaction. But a new study has found that this rare congenital condition, which causes facial paralysis, does not appear to increase anxiety and depression or lower life satisfaction, contrary to previous research [The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal, 47 (2): 134-42].

Researchers Kathleen Rives Bogart, MA, of Tufts University, and David Matsumoto, PhD, of San Francisco State University, quantitatively examined social competence, anxiety and depression associated with Moebius syndrome. A total of 37 adults with the condition and an equal number of age- and gender-matched control subjects participated in the Internet-based study.

The subjects with Moebius syndrome did not differ significantly from the control group in terms of anxiety, depression, or satisfaction with life. They did show lower social competence, probably as a result of the misinterpretations of others, but that did not appear to affect quality-of-life issues. This may be due to their ability to compensate by reading emotions and using body language to communicate they are feeling.

The people with Moebius syndrome correctly identify emotions in others at the same rate as those without the syndrome. They help compensate for their lack of facial expression by using eye contact to display confidence and prosody, body language, and verbal disclosure to express emotion. Many people with the condition live professionally and personally successful lives, the researchers noted.

These conclusions show that people with Moebius syndrome are better adjusted than previous research indicated. The researchers credited their conclusions to the novel approach taken with the study, which resulted in a larger, more diverse sample. The study was conducted online, allowing people from across the United States to participate. Subjects were recruited from the Moebius Syndrome Foundation, rather than just through medical facilities; and results were compared with those from a matched control group.

In addition, because people who have lived with the condition from birth may have different experiences and outlooks from those with later onset, only people with the congenital condition of Moebius syndrome were studied. Past research included people with similar acquired conditions, such as Bell's palsy.

The cause of Moebius syndrome is unknown. The nonprogressive disease occurs early in prenatal life. It typically is characterized by complete bilateral facial paralysis but also can include limb or hand malformations and hypoglossia, which is weakness or malformation of the tongue. Speech difficulties, which can be resolved mostly with therapy, frequently are part of this condition as well.

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