Keeping in mind

Researchers know that MS affects cognition, which is the process by which the brain stores, organizes, and recalls information. In MS, damage occurs to the myelin sheath, a protective layer that wraps around a nerve. This sheath allows electrical messages to be sent down the nerve quickly and efficiently. If this insulation is injured, electrical signals in the brain will not be sent properly. As a result, there can be problems transporting memories and thoughts to the conscious areas of the brain.

Mild problems with cognition can show up early in the course of MS and can happen in people who have few or no other physical symptoms. The good news is that cognitive problems can be improved. Experts say that different people are affected to different extents and in different ways.

Most of the time, these problems are more of a nuisance than anything else. Even people without MS forget things from time to time! However, people with MS often find that they are having difficulties with more than just their memories.

Different types of cognitive problems include the following:

  • Short-term memory: Recent memories are harder to remember, while long-term memories are very clear. For example, a person with cognitive problems may not recall what they ate for lunch yesterday but may be able to remember the phone number of an old friend.
  • Attention span: The amount of time a person can concentrate on one specific thing is shortened.
  • Word recall: Although the word is on the tip of someone's tongue, he or she is unable to think of it.
  • Information processing: Distractions are more than minor annoyances, to the point of preventing someone from doing the task at hand. For example, a person with cognitive problems may feel overwhelmed if several people are talking at the same time.
  • Judgment and problem-solving: A person has difficulty making quick decisions when assessing a particular situation, thinking of an appropriate action plan, and carrying it out. For example, a person may get frustrated and give up when faced with a problem rather than trying to find a solution.

If the risk of physical and cognitive disability is weighing on your mind, talk to your doctor about it. There are many options available that can help you live better with MS.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-and-Memory

Demystifying the myths

Memory problems among people with MS are not simply the result of feeling down or tired. They are very real and distinctly different from other medical conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, mood disorders or loss of intellect.

  • Not Alzheimer's disease: An estimated 500,000 Canadians over the age of 65 suffer from Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. In Alzheimer's disease, different areas of the brain are damaged and killed. While some of the signs of MS and Alzheimer's disease appear similar, people are affected very differently. People with Alzheimer's disease usually have more severe cognitive problems (especially with speaking) and cannot remember things from moment to moment. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, memory aids such as notebooks and electronic gadgets may not be as helpful. On the other hand, people with MS have difficulties recalling information, and memory aids act as useful reminders.
  • Not mood disorders: Memory problems and cognitive difficulties are different from emotional problems and mood disorders. Cognition refers to specific thinking processes (i.e., how the brain stores, organizes, and recalls information). While a person with MS may also have a mood disorder such as depression, these emotional problems may actually be a psychological response to having a chronic illness or the result of specific MS lesions in certain parts of the brain. People with mood disorders should talk to their doctor about treatment options. Memory problems may make mood disorders worse, but it is possible to have cognitive difficulties without having a mood disorder.

People with MS who are very worried about their symptoms can talk to their doctor or nurse about a neuropsychological assessment, which is a group of tests designed to pinpoint problem areas and come up with solutions.

If the risk of physical and cognitive disability is weighing on your mind, talk to your doctor about it. There are many options available that can help you live better with MS.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-and-Memory

From sticky notes to personal digital assistants

Nobody's memory is perfect! Even people without MS occasionally have memory lapses and confusion. Stress, anxiety and extreme tiredness can all cause cognitive difficulties. Avoid compounding the problem. Get enough rest, eat properly and regularly, make time for exercise and manage stress in a positive way.

Organization is the key to making the most of your memory. General tips for keeping organized include the following:

  • Use a daily diary or notebook and learn to use it consistently as your "Information Central." Set up sections for important appointments, to-do's, phone numbers, driving directions, shopping lists and any other things you need to remember. Get rid of all those little scrap pieces of paper. You'll feel a sense of satisfaction as you cross things off your to-do list.
  • Consider getting an electronic organizer (also known as a personal digital assistant or PDA), cell phone, or smart phone. There are many computer-based gadgets on the market, so choose the best option (be it low- or high-tech) that fits into your lifestyle. These organizers can be programmed to beep as a reminder of important appointments.
  • Carry around a small tape recorder to record important thoughts as they pop into your head. There are also electronic recorders on the market that fit easily into small pockets and don't require tapes.
  • Set up a family calendar on your refrigerator at home to keep track of everyone's commitments.
  • Keep a notepad by the phone to log messages from family and friends.
  • Organize your home or office environments so that frequently-used items remain in familiar spots. Encourage family members to return borrowed objects to their assigned places.
  • Ask people to keep directions simple. Repeat information and write down important points.
  • Try to stay calm when you don't remember something. It happens to everyone!

Many people with MS and memory problems also rely on sticky notes (Post-It is the best-known brand of these). While this may be a useful technique for some people, MS experts think that these sticky notes can cause confusion if they get out of hand or become unstuck. It may be more helpful to carry around one notebook or electronic gadget with you rather than to have a whole trail of yellow sticky notes.

If the risk of physical and cognitive disability is weighing on your mind, talk to your doctor about it. There are many options available that can help you live better with MS.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-and-Memory

Forget me not

One of the best things to do if you notice memory problems is to talk about them. Share your concerns with your health care team and your loved ones. Keeping everyone in the loop will let them know how they can help you.

The first step is to become aware of any cognitive difficulties. When you recognize that your memory is not as good as it used to be, you are on the way to figuring out how to best manage these challenges. In the past, experts did not talk about MS-related memory problems because they thought it would upset people. Today, health care professionals understand that people with MS are constantly looking for more information about cognitive difficulties or any other MS topic.

Family members and friends may not realize that memory problems are a part of MS. When a person with MS forgets important conversations, misses appointments, or misplaces things, loved ones may wonder if the person is being lazy, indifferent, or just careless. If this happens, clear the air with your family and friends. Your loved ones need to develop an understanding of your challenges to help you overcome them.

The same can be said for your employer. Cognitive aspects of MS determine a person's capacity to work and remain employed. People with MS need to educate their employers about the nature of their memory problems. A vocational counsellor or occupational therapist may be a good resource to help you minimize these problems at work.

Beyond family and friends, MS support groups are a great way to keep up with the facts, ask questions, and talk to others who are in similar situations. Comparing notes and learning how others cope can be a very therapeutic experience.

A good place to start looking for a support group is our Community Support database.We can point you to hundreds of support groups around the country for people with MS, caregivers and family members. Many of these groups are part of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. You can access a full list of their local groups at www.mssociety.ca/en/community/default.htm.

The Internet has become one of the greatest allies for people who feel isolated because of a health condition. There are many Internet-based support groups and other Web-facilitated connections for people affected by MS.

If the risk of physical and cognitive disability is weighing on your mind, talk to your doctor about it. There are many options available that can help you live better with MS.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-and-Memory