How Multiple Sclerosis Impacts Cognitive Functioning and the Signs You Should Look For | MyMSTeam

Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About MyMSTeam

How Multiple Sclerosis Impacts Cognitive Functioning and the Signs You Should Look For

Updated on June 04, 2018

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

Roughly 50% of people living with MS have some form of cognitive challenges.1

Cognitive challenges can include trouble concentrating or following through on complex tasks, along with difficulty remembering events or finding the right words to use.1

Early comprehensive intervention in partnership with your healthcare team may help maintain brain health, including slowing lesion growth.2,3

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease. One of the lesser known symptoms of MS is cognitive decline. In fact, as MS progresses, approximately 50% of people diagnosed with a type of MS will experience some form of cognitive challenges over time with attention span, processing of information, memory, verbal fluency or decision making.1 Recent studies suggest that cognitive dysfunction can occur earlier in the disease than previously thought.2 These challenges can impact the ability to work, drive, socialize and even live independently.1

How Does MS Impact Brain Health and Cognitive Functioning?
As all adults age, they generally lose a small amount of brain tissue. In people living with MS, this loss may happen at a faster pace. In addition, the brain's ability to adapt to MS damage (such as brain lesions) can be slowly used up over time. This decline in "brain health" results in increased symptoms of MS, including decreased mobility and cognitive functioning.3

What are the Signs of Cognitive Impairment?
The National Multiple Sclerosis Association describes six different categories of cognitive impairment.

  • Memory or recall - including difficulty learning new material, forgetting appointments or someone's name or feeling disoriented and not knowing where you are.

  • Attention and concentration - including difficulty focusing or inability to stick to one task without getting distracted.

  • Information processing - being unable to respond quickly when a lot of information is being presented or trouble handling deadlines.

  • Problem-solving and dealing with complex tasks - including missing the point in conversations or trouble following through with complicated tasks.

  • Visual-spatial abilities - including getting confused about right/left and north/south or trouble with depth-perception.

  • Verbal fluency - including finding the right words or mixing words up.

    When Do Signs Appear?
    Cognitive impairment symptoms may be observed one or more years before your MS diagnosis.3 However, the decline may start to occur years before symptoms are even noticed.

    In a 2018 survey of 443 MyMSTeam members, half said that they began to experience cognitive impairment symptoms well before being officially diagnosed with MS.4

    Maintaining Your "Brain Health" - Importance of Early Intervention
    There are important lifestyle changes you can make as soon as you are diagnosed with MS. This can include changes to your diet and exercise, as well as adding puzzles or other brain games to your daily routine to help keep your mind active. While further research is needed, studies have shown that working with your healthcare team to get on a comprehensive treatment intervention plan early on and staying on treatment, along with lifestyle changes, may help slow down the decline in brain health over time. Making changes even later such as starting treatment well after diagnosis – may still help to reduce brain lesions and lead to a lower level of physical disability later in life (example: decline in mobility). For example, some studies have shown that early intervention with a disease modifying therapy (DMT) in MS is thought to give an improved long-term prognosis.2

    See Steps You Can Take Today that May Help with Brain Health and talk to your healthcare specialists to learn more about what you can do.

    References:

    1. Courtney SW. Cover Story: Cognitive Issues with Multiple Sclerosis: Research, Strategies and Support. Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. https://mymsaa.org/publications/motivator/ winter-spring15/cover-story/. Published Spring 2015. Accessed March 2018.
    2. Giovannoni G, Butzkueven H, Dhib-Jalbut S, et al. Brain Health: Time Matters in Multiple Sclerosis. MS Brain Health. https://msbrainhealth.org/perch/resources/ brain-health-time-matters-in-multiple-sclerosis-sep-17-1.pdf. Published 2015. Updated September 2017. Accessed March 2018.
    3. Costello K, Halper J, Kalb R, et al. The Use of Disease Modifying Therapies in Multiple Sclerosis: Principles and Current Evidence. MS Coalition. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/getmedia/ 5ca284d3-fc7c-4ba5-b005-ab537d495c3c/ DMT_Consensus_MS_Coalition_color. Published July 2014. Updated March 2017. Accessed March 2018.
    4. MyMSTeam Study on Cognitive Symptoms, March-April 2018. n=443

    A MyMSTeam Member said:

    I have dealt with cognitive issues for over 20 years. They affect my learning and speech in different ways. I want a cure for multiple sclerosis. I am… read more

    posted 2 days ago

    hug

    Recent articles

    Brain lesions in ms
    Article written by Nyaka Mwanza Brain lesions in multiple sclerosis are caused by an abnormal...

    Brain Lesions in MS: What You Must Know

    Article written by Nyaka Mwanza Brain lesions in multiple sclerosis are caused by an abnormal...
    Mht dr boster live q a internal ad carousel
    President and founder of The Boster Center for Multiple SclerosisBoard-certified neurologist and...

    Your MS Questions Answered LIVE on MyMSTeam with Dr. Boster

    President and founder of The Boster Center for Multiple SclerosisBoard-certified neurologist and...
    Mht video ms   covid 19 an interview  with  dr. aaron boster vertical04 carousel
    Article written by Eric Peacock Medically reviewed by Dr. Aaron BosterAccording to Dr. Aaron...

    MS Treatments and COVID-19: What to Discuss With Your Neurologist

    Article written by Eric Peacock Medically reviewed by Dr. Aaron BosterAccording to Dr. Aaron...
    Mht covid19 essentialupdates carousel
    During the COVID-19 pandemic, MyMSTeam will provide summaries and links to articles of importance...

    COVID-19 and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Essential Updates

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, MyMSTeam will provide summaries and links to articles of importance...
    Signs and symptoms of spms
    Article written by Nyaka Mwanza Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS) is diagnosed in...

    Signs and Symptoms of Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS)

    Article written by Nyaka Mwanza Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS) is diagnosed in...
    Stem cell treatment for ms
    Article written by Nyaka Mwanza Stem cell therapy is an emerging area of treatment that may hold...

    Stem Cell Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis

    Article written by Nyaka Mwanza Stem cell therapy is an emerging area of treatment that may hold...
    Mht video how to talk to your doctor drexpertinterview carousel
    Your doctor learns the most about your multiple sclerosis (MS) through what you tell them, not...

    How to Talk to Your Doctor About MS: Advice From Dr. Aaron Boster

    Your doctor learns the most about your multiple sclerosis (MS) through what you tell them, not...
    Mht mymsteam cureforms carousel
    Article written by Laurie Berger Medically reviewed by Aaron Boster, M.D.Will we ever see a cure...

    Are We Close to a Cure for MS?: An Update from Dr. Aaron Boster

    Article written by Laurie Berger Medically reviewed by Aaron Boster, M.D.Will we ever see a cure...
    Mht mymsteam earlysymptoms carousel
    Article written by Mary K. Talbot Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease...

    Early Symptoms of MS

    Article written by Mary K. Talbot Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease...
    Ms vs als understand the difference
    Article written by Mary K. Talbot A slowing and unsteady gait would be unusual for a young or...

    MS vs. ALS: Understanding the Difference

    Article written by Mary K. Talbot A slowing and unsteady gait would be unusual for a young or...
    MyMSTeam My multiple sclerosis Team

    Two Ways to Get Started with MyMSTeam

    Become a Member

    Connect with others who are living with multiple sclerosis. Get members only access to emotional support, advice, treatment insights, and more.

    sign up

    Become a Subscriber

    Get the latest articles about multiple sclerosis sent to your inbox.

    Not now, thanks

    Privacy policy
    MyMSTeam My multiple sclerosis Team

    Thank you for signing up.

    close