How Multiple Sclerosis Affects Cognition: All You Need To Know

Author : albertalice 920 | Published On : 27 Jul 2021

Cognitive functions are more complex than we realize. Simple actions, like remembering a name or deciding which direction to drive in, are the result of multiple processes in the brain involving emotions, logic, our past experience, and our current desires. Research has demonstrated that patients with multiple sclerosis have impaired cognitive ability, which makes all of these actions much harder and could potentially lead to poor decisions. Here’s a quick guide on how multiple sclerosis affects cognition.

Understanding Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the central nervous system. It is an autoimmune demyelinating disease, which means the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues — in this case, the myelin or protective covering around nerve fibers. This leaves scarred tissues or lesions in multiple areas, disrupting electrical impulses throughout the body. When the myelin sheath is damaged, nerve impulses slow down or even stop, causing neurological problems. While the disease has no cure, the right treatment can manage the symptoms and slow disease progression. The multiple sclerosis treatment in Bangalore will typically take the form of a treatment plan that includes stem cell therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy.

Multiple Sclerosis and cognitive decline

As the disease progresses, most patients will become aware of problems with thinking, remembering, and decision-making. This is owing to the formation of lesions in the brain, which affect cognitive abilities depending on where the lesions are located. This kind of impaired cognition can occur at any stage of multiple sclerosis and cannot necessarily be correlated to what an MRI scan might show. Cognitive decline can take the form of:

  • Trouble remembering names, faces, and events
  • Difficulty with learning new things
  • Difficulty with multitasking
  • Trouble with finding the right word for something
  • Reduced attention span
  • Impaired decision-making abilities

A common symptom of multiple sclerosis is fatigue, which also affects cognitive ability as patients are too tired to learn or remember things. Certain medications can also be the culprit.

How to test for cognitive decline

If a patient with multiple sclerosis suspects that they have impaired cognition, they should consult their doctor for a formal evaluation without delay. The doctor will typically conduct a neuropsychological exam, during which they will test attention span, memory, learning ability, and other aspects of cognition. The exam will reveal whether the cognitive decline is caused by multiple sclerosis itself, or by a related condition like depression or fatigue. It may also help to conduct brain scans and determine where the lesions are located, and thus which cognitive abilities might be affected, although as mentioned above this is not a perfect indicator. It is important to remember that many patients may not be aware of their own cognitive decline. Doctors should thus carefully record the patient’s thoughts, statements and observations over multiple sessions so as to detect patterns of decline early.

How to manage cognitive decline

It can be extremely frustrating for a patient with multiple sclerosis to lose the ability to remember names and faces or to have trouble with simple, daily decisions. Over time, this can also affect their job performance and their ability to maintain relationships. Simple tricks to reinforce learned information can help with this. Some ideas that patients can try include:

  • Building associations as a memory aid, such as associating a new colleague’s name with the name of a place or thing that sounds like the colleague’s name
  • Having one designated place for daily essentials like keys, wallets, ID cards and so on
  • Displaying all appointments, schedules and to-do lists on a large board in a prominent place
  • Practising new information at intervals over time to retain it better
  • Recording voice notes to remember important things
  • Removing distractions while studying, such as turning off the TV or going into a quiet room away from other people
  • Doing one thing at a time rather than multitasking
  • Engaging in regular physical activity, as aerobic exercise has been demonstrated to improve cognitive function in patients with multiple sclerosis

Cognitive decline is common among multiple sclerosis patients and can be challenging to live with. By identifying the signs of cognitive decline early on, the patient can integrate tools and techniques for better cognitive control — into their multiple sclerosis treatment, in Bangalore. This will help them make smarter decisions, be more independent and enjoy a fulfilling daily life.