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  • Writer's pictureMark Mueller

The Cognitive Side of MS

MS is a disease of the central nervous system. The damage done to the nerves can result in many physical symptoms, some of which can be debilitating.

But there is also a cognitive side to MS. Damage to the nerves can create problems with one's memory, comprehension, critical thinking and the ability to perform mental tasks, such as problem solving.

There are many people with MS who struggle with memory; whether it be names, finding the right word or perhaps where they last left their keys. I know...that sounds like a lot of us, but for so many with MS, there can be a "fog" that they sense around their brain that just won't let them think the way they would like to.

A person with MS may find it hard to concentrate and to pay attention for any length of time. When a lot of information is thrown at them all at once, it can become very difficult for them to process any of it. All of this can result in making it difficult for the person with MS to be able to, at times, make decisions.

Some cognitive issues can result in problems with one's balance. An MS person's spatial awareness may not allow them to know where their body is in space (in relation to everything around them; including the floor which they may not feel). This situation heightens when the person is in an environment of high stimulation such as a supermarket. All of the sensory input can overload their brain and walking and balance can become even more difficult.

It goes without saying, that when someone experiences life in this way, frustration, anger and depression may result. Many people with MS will need to learn how to take their time, slow down and not be in a hurry. This may be totally opposite of how they operated pre-MS but it is something they will need to adapt to. They will have to gain an understanding of their limitations and operate within them because hurrying can just make matters worse. This does not mean that they are giving in or giving up. It just means that now, certain situations need to be addressed in new ways.

There are several ways that these cognitive issues can be worked on to help the person stay as mentally sharp as possible.

Reading: Reading exercises the brain. It keeps it active and allows you to use your imagination as you visualize. It can challenge your vocabulary. Write down words that are new to you along with their definition. Make a game of using your new word in conversation several time the next day.

Playing games: Games force you to think, especially memory games, problem solving games or games of strategy.

Puzzles: Crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles and puzzles of all sorts are fun as well as effective for keeping the brain honed.

Physical exercise: Exercise provides a huge benefit for cognitive issues as it supplies the brain with fresh oxygen and it helps the individual gain body and spatial awareness as well as balance.

The following are some examples of disciplines that keep the body moving as well as requiring you to focus (think) on a system of memorized compound movements:

-Weight Training

-Martial Arts

-Tai Chi




Learn a New Skill: Broaden your horizons by challenging yourself to learn something new. Stretch your brain!

Here are some ideas:

-Take a class on a subject you may enjoy

-Start a new hobby

-Take music lessons

-Learn a new language

Teach your new skill: Become the teacher. Once you have learned a new skill, teach it to someone else. This will help ingrain it in you by requiring you to understand the concepts and how to convey them in a logical manner.


All of these pastimes are not only fun and enjoyable, but they help the person keep a positive mental and emotional attitude which will lessen the risk of possible depression.

It is important to keep moving and to keep thinking, but to take a break when necessary. The more you challenge yourself, the better your chances are of improving and not moving backwards. Keep moving forward!

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