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Neurological reserve: How the brain can adapt to MS damage
When your brain is injured or damaged, it has a natural ability to adapt and continue functioning.
If you’re living with multiple sclerosis (MS), this ability, called “neurological reserve,” can help delay the onset of MS symptoms. A growing number of MS experts are pointing out the importance of neurological reserve and the role it plays in slowing the progression of MS-related disability.
Neurological reserve creates “detours” around lesion damage
MS lesions can affect areas of the brain and keep them from functioning as they should. However, if there is sufficient neurological reserve, the brain can develop a “workaround” to bypass the damaged brain tissue and perform the tasks that part of the brain no longer can. In this way, neurological reserve can actually keep you from experiencing MS symptoms early on in the disease.
A limited reserve that decreases over time
Neurological reserve is limited and it decreases as we age. For people with MS, neurological reserve also gets used up as the brain recruits new areas to help compensate for brain tissue damaged by lesions. That’s why MS experts encourage people with MS to do all they can to maintain brain health. It can help neurological reserve last longer.
A brain-healthy lifestyle may help people maintain neurological reserve longer
According to The Multiple Sclerosis Brain Health Initiative (a report issued in 2016 by a group of MS specialists), there are a number of things you can do to keep your brain as healthy as possible and maximize neurological reserve. Here are a few healthy choices to consider:
- Help relieve MS symptoms with exercise—staying as active as you can is a good idea
- Reduce the number of new lesions by maintaining a healthy body weight. Obesity is associated with a higher number of MS lesions
- Enhance neurological reserve by keeping your mind active. Activities like reading, writing, and playing board games can help
- Help reduce relapses and lesions when you quit smoking. Smoking is particularly dangerous for people with MS, and can also diminish neurological reserve
Before making any lifestyle changes, it’s important to ask your doctor about what’s right for you. Even if you’re not currently experiencing new or worsening MS symptoms, now is a good time to talk to your MS healthcare team about ways you can be proactive about brain health. According to Dr. Timothy Vollmer, neurologist at the University of Colorado Denver, “The best bet at slowing down disability later in life is at the beginning of the disease.”
Learn more about what you can do today, and every day, to help preserve your brain and its function by visiting MSMindShift.com
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