For some people, multiple sclerosis is an invisible illness. Cognitive impairments such as short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating and altered moods can have a large impact on quality of life for people living with the disease and their loved ones. Research on treatments for cognitive impairment is ongoing, but cognitive rehabilitation with an occupational therapist is a great way to develop compensatory strategies for people who live with these symptoms. While coping strategies may not reverse the symptoms themselves, they can provide efficient alternative ways to perform tasks that have become difficult. Here are a few tricks for managing the cognitive changes due to MS.
“When I was first diagnosed with MS, I developed little tricks to help me cope with cognitive symptoms. I’ll set alarms on my cellphone or text myself to remember things. The act of putting pen to paper has always helped me commit things to memory, so I keep a day planner. Expressing what’s on my mind is sometimes hard for me. Thoughts will be clear in my head, but they just won’t come out the same way when I try to articulate them.”
STAY COOL. Besides the physical effects of heat sensitivity, many people living with MS report heat as a trigger for their cognitive changes. Keeping your core temperature down may help you keep a clear head. Cooling clothing, air conditioning and cold drinks are good ways to prevent overheating.
IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGERS. Become aware of the environmental factors that may trigger your cognitive changes. If you’re sensitive to background noise, find a quiet space to focus on your work. Fatigue and cognition appear to be inter-related, so make sure to get lots of rest—and know when to take a break!
ATTEND A SUPPORT GROUP. MS support groups are communities that connect people with shared experiences to emotional support and practical information. Learning how others cope can lead you to more resources and remove the feeling of stigma that often comes with the invisible symptoms of MS.
KEEP YOUR LIFE CONSISTENT. Assign specific places in your home for frequently used things, like keys or glasses, so that you know where to find them.
SET REMINDERS YOU CAN’T AVOID. Leave sticky notes on your front door or bathroom mirror to remind you about appointments or taking medication.
For more information on coping with cognitive changes, visit https://mssociety.ca/resources/library