How to Think More Clearly With MS
Can you maintain clear thinking with a brain damaged by multiple sclerosis (MS)? Cognitive problems affect at least 65% of people with MS, including myself. These problems can include memory loss, difficulty learning new things, attention and concentration issues, executive function challenges, visual/spatial function impairments, verbal fluency struggles, and trouble keeping up with tasks or conversations.
Cognition and thinking problems in MS – Multiple Sclerosis Breaking it down podcast
These symptoms, often referred to as brain fog, can be annoying at home but can be disabling at work or school and can even lead to accidents. MS-related damage to brain cells is the cause of these cognitive symptoms. However, there are ways to manage and slow down these losses, and sometimes, even heal the brain.
One effective method of preventing MS cognitive damage is physical exercise. Exercise improves cognitive function in aging adults, as increased blood flow to the brain helps repair nerve damage. It has also been shown to slow and reverse brain tissue loss caused by MS. Aerobic exercise has proven to be particularly beneficial for thinking, and strength exercises may also help.
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Engaging in brain activities is also recommended to improve cognitive function. This can include creative writing, journaling, reading, handiwork, board or card games, drawing or painting, crossword or jigsaw puzzles, and computer brain training programs. Learning a new language or playing an instrument are more challenging but rewarding options.
Furthermore, engaging with others in social situations helps improve clear thinking. However, obsessively focusing on worries or past hurts does not contribute to cognitive clarity.
Managing cognitive problems can be achieved through various strategies. Some tips include using multiple ways to take in information to improve memory, writing everything down or using memory aids, getting more organized, taking breaks to prevent cognitive fatigue, avoiding multitasking, setting reminders for tasks, avoiding major decisions when stressed, warm, or tired, listening to loved ones' advice, prioritizing enough sleep and a healthy diet, reducing stress through relaxation techniques, slowing down thinking speed, and discussing medication options with a doctor.
It's important to remember that cognitive issues are manageable and not our fault. We should avoid judging ourselves and instead focus on being organized and careful. The MS Society offers articles and videos on improving cognition with MS, and there are support groups available for connecting with others living with multiple sclerosis.