Symptom Series: Cognitive dysfunction

Learn what cognition is and how MS may affect it
MS may cause cognitive issues


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Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects everyone differently. No two people have the exact same symptoms or experiences with the disease. Since MS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, you may have a wide range of symptoms. Some are visible and can be seen by others. Others are invisible and are only seen or felt by the person with MS.

Through our Symptom Series, we’ll provide some information and tips about different symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team. Remember, your healthcare team should be your primary source for information or any questions.

Although everybody’s situation is different, many people with MS have problems with cognition (the ability to process and retain information through thought, experience, and the senses). Damage to the nerve cells in your brain may lead to attention and concentration issues, forgetfulness, trouble planning and organizing, and difficulty communicating. Several factors may contribute to cognitive dysfunction. These could include your stage of MS, any medicines you’re taking, and your overall health. It is important to work with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you.

Here are some tips to consider that may help with cognitive dysfunction:

Exercise may help with cognitive issues


Exercise may benefit people differently. For people with MS, it may also help with walking ability, fatigue, and cognitive function. Work with your healthcare provider to find which forms of exercise best fit your routine and capability, such as a light cycle, yoga, treadmill walking, or gardening. Everybody’s symptoms are different, try to define your limits and work within them. Get started with fitness and exercise .

Taking notes can help with memory issues

Take notes

During any activity that requires you to remember something—school, work, healthcare provider appointments—take notes. Establish a system that works for you, whether it’s keeping a small notebook handy or taking notes on your phone. Do your best to keep your information organized and located in one spot that you can conveniently return to. Try dividing your information into smaller sections, and take the time to re-read your notes to help retain the information.

Brain games can keep your mind active

Play games

Seriously! Try out a memory game or a puzzle. Brain games are a fun way to help keep your mind active and focus on memory, problem-solving, and other brain skills.

Stay focused by reducing distractions

Reduce distractions

If you find yourself struggling to keep your focus, start by asking yourself what’s distracting you. Is it something you see? Something you hear? If it’s a visual distraction, start by removing unnecessary clutter from the room you’re working in. If you are distracted by noise, try to eliminate extra sound by turning off the TV or music. You could also try wearing headphones or earplugs to reduce noise.

Stick to a routine to help reduce distractions

Stick to a schedule

Having a routine may help prevent you from forgetting anything important. By keeping your schedule with your notes, you can immediately mark down any important events to keep track of. Otherwise, having a consistent routine will help you stay on track throughout your day with fewer distractions.

Because of the many factors, it is important to get medical advice from your healthcare provider about managing cognitive dysfunction.


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