By the spring of 2005, tingling and weakness were bothering me, and I had lost some dexterity in my hands. But it was my memory that scared me enough to seek answers. Although everyone’s experience with multiple sclerosis (MS) varies, I had been secretly struggling with cognitive issues, fuzzy thinking, trouble making decisions, multitasking, and short-term memory problems. My kids laughed when I tried to order a pizza and I couldn't remember our own address. I laughed too, but deep inside I was scared. Something had changed in my brain, and I was becoming forgetful, confused at times, and I got lost driving on what should have been familiar roads. At times I was unable to even answer simple questions. I got frustrated and angry at myself and others around me. I tried to mask and hide it all. Having sole custody of my kids, I feared losing my memory would certainly lead to losing my children. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any questions about cognitive issues or your memory.
A diagnosis of MS was actually welcome because it meant my concerns were valid. Although cognitive issues in MS patients may actually be a common symptom, everyone’s experience with MS is different. I was one of those people whose brain went to mush at the most inopportune time. It sucked! I endured a few more years of hiding my memory deficits. My cognitive issues were causing me collateral damage in the form of anxiety and extreme exhaustion. I eventually questioned my ability to remain employed.
My neurologist and I decided to have my memory tested to get a baseline and also to see if we could quantify my weaknesses and strengths. Although my intelligence and long-term memory were in acceptable ranges, MS had clearly affected my short-term memory.
I like to think of short-term memory as a computer's Random Access Memory (RAM), the working memory as you open and run programs. Our long-term memory is more like a hard drive, permanent storage for all those programs, data, and photographs. And, our intelligence level is sort of like what operating system we are using.
I learned there were plenty of things I could do myself to offset my memory issues. This included assistive technology and working with my doctor to find medications that could help with some of the symptoms I was experiencing. I started being proactive, organizing and creating a better work space environment, being diligent about taking notes, and letting people in my life know I could still handle my responsibilities. I might just need to take a bit more time, or be left alone to do them. There are also many things that affect short-term memory for everyone. Things like sleeping habits, stress, nutrition, and aging. Talk to your doctor and make sure these items are addressed first as your memory issues may not even be related to MS!
Here are some changes that definitely have made a difference in my ability to remain working. They’ve also helped reduce the stress and worry that having memory issues can create. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions.
Not everyone will be able to take advantage of all these ideas, but hopefully you can try a few!
Memory issues can even have some benefits. Along with forgetting our keys, our neighbor’s name, or our dentist appointment, sometimes we also forget we have MS!