If you’re like me, MS has affected your cognition. What does that exactly mean? Cognition refers to your memory and ability to think. It explains the way you concentrate, multitask, learn, remember, understand, recognize, and problem solve. As human beings, we are all unique and our cognitive skills allow us to function in everyday life no matter what that looks like to each person.
My cognition is affected in a multitude of ways with the severity differing depending on if I’m having a MS exacerbation, experiencing an abnormally fatigued day, or all is status quo. For example, on most normal days I have trouble with the following:
- Remembering names
- Remembering prior conversations
- Brain processing delays (exhibited by continuous ringing in my ears)
However, when I am severely fatigued, I also have difficulty with:
- My ability to concentrate
- Coordination (I develop a bad case of the ‘dropsies’)
- Excessive fatigue or drowsiness
- Difficulty with word retrieval (‘tip of the tongue’ syndrome)
My symptoms are not uncommon and a few more you might experience include challenges with your attention span, multitasking, learning, or decision-making, to name a few. I find my cognitive limitations to be quite frustrating which is normal. When I try to explain to people why I can’t remember something, they often get upset or impatient with me. They think I use my MS as an excuse when, in fact, it is a reason. Thankfully most days I’m living healthy with MS, even though most days I experience cognitive limitations.
Research shows that approximately half of all the people living with MS have, or will develop, problems with their cognition yet only 5-10% of those people will experience problems severe enough to interfere with everyday activities. (National MS Society) Changes in cognition can be caused by several different factors including: medications, depression, stress, fatigue, drug/alcohol abuse, and sleep disorders. Namely, at times when your body is in a weakened state, so too will be your brain. Your neurologist can either test you or refer you to someone who does the testing to possibly pinpoint the cause(s) to offer treatment options.
Treatment options are limited at this point in time. Your disease modifying therapy (DMT) might be providing protection against cognitive decline as it works to reduce demyelination or the development of new lesions. You might also explore if you have a sleep disorder. Severe fatigue is often correlated to cognition deficits. Additionally, talk to your doctor about medications that have been shown to improve cognition in MS such as Galantamine (one that I take although not convinced it is doing anything) or other medications used in the treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Some strategies I use that you might find helpful in combating cognitive challenges are:
- Making lists
- Using Post-It notes as reminders (I have them all over my office)
- Dividing large complex tasks into smaller simpler tasks
- Eating a nutritious diet filled with healthy ‘brain’ foods like nuts, berries, and fish
- Playing brain fitness games on my smartphone like Lumosity
- Asking people to assist me (e.g. I’m always asking my mother to help me remember things)
- Exercising 20-30 minutes per day (even just moving is shown to improve brain health)
- Being mindful instead of having your mind full; namely, focusing on the task at hand
Many people with MS who have impaired cognition function effectively in their daily life. I know I do. And if you feel you are not, consult your physician to see what can be done about it. Otherwise, live your best life possible and try a few of the strategies I’ve listed above. Your body and your brain can live healthy with MS.
Be Present | Be Purposeful | Be Well