It is fortunate that the MS community is increasingly open about the fact that this disease includes cognitive symptoms as well and physical and emotional ones. This opens the door for persons living with MS and their health care providers to assess if cognitive symptoms exist and how best to manage them.
Based on a number of studies, it is estimated that 50% or more of people with MS will experience cognitive symptoms due to the disease. Typically these symptoms are very specific to different cognitive activities. Consequently these symptoms range from mild to moderate in severity and only about 5% of people with MS experience severely disabling cognitive problems. The symptoms are important to diagnose and understand because, left unmanaged, they can have an important impact on routine daily activities. Common cognitive symptoms include difficulty with attention and information processing, attention and concentration as well as planning, organizing and carrying out complex tasks. There are a number of ways to assess for and address these concerns.
If cognitive challenges have a significant impact on safety or ability to function in work or daily life, seeking professional help from a speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist or neuropsychologist might be advisable. Assessment and treatment could help to remediate more serious cognitive problems.
However, relatively simple compensatory strategies can also make a big difference in everyday functioning. These may involve using internal tools-such as visual or verbal associations-to help to learn new information. Strategies that employ external aids-such as calendars, smartphones or pocket logs-can assist with planning, organization and memory. The key is to use tools that fit personality, preferences and life circumstances. Keeping the use of external aids simple, and limited to two or three at most, can yield maximum benefit with minimal confusion and frustration.
Most important is having an open mind about using cognitive strategies by letting go of patterns that are no longer effective and replacing them with a fresh approach. Compensatory strategies are not a crutch, but tools that can enhance and maximize cognitive function.
Click here to get even more great tips on this topic by viewing our archived webinar on Managing Speech, Language and Cognitive Challenges.