Cognitive Function Hot Button

Mandy Crest Health Guide
  • Physical manifestations of multiple sclerosis are one thing. But to feel that sharpness... that edge you once had... slowly slipping away, is quite another. When other symptoms of MS strike, many of us turn to intellectual and creative pursuits to fill the void. We tend to live inside our heads, so to speak. And now cognitive function takes a hit? It is a horrifying prospect.

    In my recent post, “Cognitive Function Fears: MS or Aging,” I wondered, almost casually, if MS or age was the reason my troubles with word recall and occasional bouts of absentmindedness. Judging by the intense discussion that followed, I stumbled on to a hot button issue among MS patients.

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    Apparently, I'm not the only one who fears this worrisome symptom. My own difficulties are relatively minor and not out of the normal range for someone approaching 50, so I'm not overly concerned at this point. But cognitive function IS on the list of MS-related symptoms and IS of great concern to so many of us.

    Looking into the matter further, I learned that cognitive function as it relates to MS has to do with memory retrieval; organizing and planning; focusing and concentration; language skills; and visual perception. Fifty percent of people with MS report some level of cognition change. Fifty percent! Obviously, it's not something we can ignore.

    The good news is that MS is not known to affect general intellect, long-term memory, or reading comprehension. We can all relax a little about that, at least.

    Like other manifestations of MS, one symptom has little to do with another. A very physically disabled person may have no cognitive issues, and vice versa. However, there IS a link between cognitive dysfunction and the number and location of lesions on the brain.

    It is important that we take action -- and see a neurologist -- when we suspect any type of cognitive problem due to MS. A physician may be able to prescribe medications or rehabilitative exercises to treat particular cognitive problems. Off-label uses for existing medications are often prescribed under these circumstances. A commenter on the last post reported using Ritalin, normally prescribed for ADD and ADHD, to improve speaking and memory problems.

    Research regarding cognitive issues in MS, funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, is ongoing. Scientists are studying the diagnosis and treatment of cognitive problems and how disease-modifying drugs and cognitive rehabilitation may help.

    I like to poke fun at myself for my “word salad,” but cognitive dysfunction is no joke.

Published On: January 22, 2009