MS, Memory and Cognition

This week Grace Kavanagh shares her personal experiences with memory and cognition and the coping strategies she uses.

We all know that feeling when we walk into a room and cannot for the life of us remember what we went in for. Well that feeling, only magnified and more disturbing, can be a regular fixture for some people with MS. You may have also heard of the terms ‘cog-fog’ or ‘brain fog’ which are often used to describe these symptoms.

The MS Trust has a really good page describing the types and some of the causes of memory and cognition issues in MS; I would highly recommend a read.

Personal Experiences and Strategies

  • I often cannot think of the right word in a conversation. One example of this was when on holiday with my sisters I kept confusing the word hoover for elevator. I find when my brain obsesses on the wrong word it helps me to say that word out loud to make room for the right word.
  • If I ever feel like I have lost a word I try to get the person I am having a conversation with to prompt me by telling them what I mean. I sometimes feel like a walking thesaurus, which ironically is good cognitive training.
  • MS can often mean lots of medication at differing times of the day. I have alarms set up in my phone for each tablet so I know what to take and when. This is especially useful for tablets I don't take everyday.
  • I portion out my daily tablets for the week. I have a two compartment container for each day that I fill with my morning and evening tablets. I find this is a lot less stress on me as my meds are prepared I just have to take the container for that day.
  • All my appointments are in the calendar on my phone with reminders set up to keep me on track. One flaw with this system was when I did not realise I had anything scheduled for a day and my reminder alerted me 15 minutes before my appointment but I was home in bed. Lesson learnt - look at the calendar at the beginning of each week to have some idea of my commitments or else set a reminder for the day before.
  • I write things down a lot. If there is something I need to do or remember I write it in my notebook - just have to remember to look at the notebook…
  • Trying to stay mentally alert is really important. I like to use games on my phone that make me think and problem solve. Good options for this might include crosswords, Sudoku and logic puzzles.  Choose something you enjoy so it does not feel like too much of a chore.
  • Learning new things can help keep your mind sharp. Take a course or try a new hobby. Mobility is an increasing issue for me so attending a course can be difficult. However there are loads of tutorials on YouTube for anything you might be interested in, so you can learn in your own home. My next project… candle making!
  • Talk to your MS Care Team. I am lucky with the team in St James Hospital as I have regular access to an Occupational Therapist who carries out cognition tests to monitor my progress. This is really reassuring as I might feel like I am losing my mind but she can compare with previous tests to see what is really happening.
  • Fatigue can be a big issue for me and definitely slows my thinking and word recall. If this happens I try not to panic and if possible down tools for a bit and rest.
  • Lastly and possibly most importantly - be kind to yourself. Being frustrated or overly self critical only exacerbates memory issues. It is not something I can control. I try my best with the strategies outlined but sometimes I just have to give in and let it pass.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, I'm sure I could think of more if only I could remember them!

So in the interest of continual learning: What are your coping strategies for memory and cognition issues??

Read Grace’s personal blog