Senior Care Blog Wayland and Weston

Managing Cognitive Changes Due to MS

By Denise Roskamp

Many people don’t realize that multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the cognitive abilities of those who suffer from the disease. Simply put, cognition is a person’s ability to think and perform higher functions that involve the brain. Things like memory, planning activities and tasks, solving problems, and paying attention are all cognitive functions. Because MS affects the nerves of the brain and spinal cord, it also affects thinking. If you have an aging family member with MS, you may have noticed they sometimes seem unable to focus, remember things, or carry out complex tasks. You might be worried about dementia, but the real cause could be MS.

How Does MS Affect Thinking?

Researchers haven’t learned everything there is to know about how MS affects cognition, but they have identified some changes that commonly occur. A few of the changes are:

  • Concentration and Attention: People with MS may have trouble multi-tasking. For example, talking on the phone while making dinner might be difficult for them. Because of this, it may even be dangerous for a person with MS to drive while carrying on a phone conversation because it requires them to divide their attention between the conversation and the road.
  • Memory: People with MS report difficulties with memory more often than any other kind of cognitive problem. In particular, MS patients have difficulty recalling recent events. As a result, a person who is able to perfectly recall something that happened in the distant past might not be able to remember the details of a conversation that took place earlier in the day.
  • Verbal Problems: You might notice your loved one with MS being unable to find the right words. It’s as if the word they are seeking is on the “tip of their tongue,” but they can’t quite get it out. This can slow their speech patterns and make speaking frustrating.

Tips for Managing Cognitive Changes

Family caregivers and home care providers can assist a person with MS to deal with their cognitive changes by encouraging them to employ the following strategies:

  • Reminders: Write reminder notes and place them in noticeable places. It can also be helpful to set reminders on a smart phone or laptop that the person frequently uses. Home care providers can program reminders for appointments, medications, and other events.
  • Carry a Notebook: Encourage the MS patient to carry a notebook and pen with them at all times for jotting down notes, such as appointment dates and times or important phone numbers. It can also be useful to write down the names of new people.
  • Get Enough Sleep: Interrupted sleep or lack of sleep can make cognitive problems worse. A home care provider can help ensure the older adult gets enough sleep by helping them follow good sleep habits, like following a routine. Home care providers can also allow seniors to rest during the day while they handle the housework or field phone calls.

Though the cognitive changes that sometimes come with MS are certainly challenging, seniors with MS can live better with the cognitive changes associated with the disease with the help of family members and home care providers. Simply having people in their support system who understand the disease and how to help can be a relief.