Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complicated disease that causes both physical and cognitive changes. It occurs in people of all ages. Approximately 400,000 people in the United States currently have MS and 10,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. While many people are familiar with the way MS physically affects people, they may not be aware of the way that MS affects the way a person thinks. However, 65 percent of MS patients experience some form of cognitive changes.
How MS Affects the Brain
MS is a disease in which the myelin that protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord is attacked and damaged. The body can repair some of the damage on its own, but eventually, there is scarring on the nerve fibers. The nerve fiber is damaged and there can even be a loss of brain tissue.
One of the factors that can affect the thinking of a person with MS is a phenomenon called “cognitive fatigue.” When this happens, a person simply feels too fatigued to do some tasks that involve thinking. During cognitive fatigue, the ability to think is temporarily impaired so that MS patients may have times of the day when they are better able to manage tasks that involve thinking.
Encouraging Cognitive Health
Experts suggest that engaging in mentally stimulating activities may help with cognitive health. Think of it like exercise for the brain. When people with MS do things that make them think, they’re improving their ability to solve problems and think creatively.
Some activities that involve mental stimulation are:
-Board games, especially those that involve strategic thinking.
-Crossword or Sudoku Puzzles.
-Learning new skills, such as a new hobby.
-Taking classes or attending seminars.
If you have an aging family member with MS, an elder care provider can help them to remain living comfortably in their own home. Elder care providers can assist with cognitive changes by jotting down notes for the person, setting electronic reminders on cell phones or other devices, and encouraging them to engage in activities that stimulate the brain. Elder care providers can even spend time engaging the senior in activities. They can play games, help with crafts and hobbies, or drive the senior to a class or seminar. Elder care providers can also help when the physical symptoms of MS make it hard to do things around the house. They can assist with housework, laundry, meal preparation, and much more.