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Memories .. not to worry!

It's out of the closet ... it's in black and white and for everyone What is it? It is the fact that people with multiple sclerosis sometimes have cognitive changes-changes in some facets of intellectual functioning. Recent studies, according to the article in the Winter 1990 issue of INSIDE MS, have shown that around 50% of people with MS show no evidence at all of intellectual dysfunction. Of the other half who may experience some problem, less than 10% have moderate to severe dysfunction. That's reassuring.

Also, please keep in mind that these studies show that it is very unlikely that one day you may suddenly be unable to read the sports page or add up your bills for next month it's not usually that extreme kind of loss of function. More commonly it's something like-"Where did I put my glasses?"-or "I just can't think of the word."

Nonetheless, if you have MS, you can't help but be somewhat concerned. But I say "SO WHAT?!".

I would suggest that It happens at times to almost everyone I know. For example, a friend carefully preheated the oven and washed and wrapped her potatoes in preparation for baking them during church. She came home, opened the oven door, but NO potatoes ... she finally found them safely chilling and very RAW in the refrigerator! "Normal" people forget all the time. That is a fact, but it's also true that there can be a difference: If and when It happens to a person with MS, it happens more frequently and can be more interfering.

That's why the research on cognitive problems is so important-it helps in understanding what is happening and in determining what can be done if changes occur.

My concern is that some of us might feel that release of this important research has given those of us with MS Permission" not to use our brains to our full individual potential.

So what can we do about it?

First of all, allow me to clear up a common misconception about the brain. Years ago, when I was in college education classes, we were taught that a person could not "exercise" the brain-that you reached your intellectual potential early in life with the brain cells you were born with. We now know that even with severe head trauma, new strategies can often be found through practice and perseverance.

Here are some strategies you might try for starters":

1. Make a game of using your memory. If you forget something, don't get in a hurry-don't give up too soon. Relax, breathe deeply, and if you can't pull the needed information from your "data bank," check out any clues, then let it go for a little while. It may "pop" back in later. Congratulate yourself when it does come back to you.

2. Lists are very useful aids, but whenever you don't need them, "test" yourself by making your mind work. College courses for beginning students, self-help books or courses and specialists offer a host of memory devices and techniques. For example, group items or concepts in mental sets. Use mnemonic devices if your mental grocery list contains lettuce, eggs, grapes, and spaghetti, think l-e-g-s." If you often forget your purse, leave it in front of the door where you can't miss it! Make retrieving and using information fun and challenging ! 3. The sharpest older people I know provide good examples-they talk and listen to a lot of different people, read a lot and are selective in their television habits (often choosing to watch games and news shows).

4. Fatigue or depression can interfere with memory, speech, and other cognitive processes, so avoid becoming overtired or overheated. Seek professional help if you are experiencing depression.

5. An increasing number of therapists, educators, and other professionals work with cognitive deficits and related speech problems. If you feel you could benefit from working with a specialist, look into sources available in your area and carefully choose someone you can work with.

6. Try doing puzzles instead of watching soap operas. Become an expert in some area, like trivia or stamp collecting.

There are also general "good MS habits" that will help:

1. Be physically active. Experts in rehabilitation teach us that keeping as physically fit as possible helps in maintaining a healthy mind.

2. Don't EXPECT to experience any or all symptoms you have heard are associated with MS. No one's course of symptoms is identical to another person's. Also-instead of dwelling on the percentage of people experiencing a particular problem, remember that another, probably much larger, percentage DON'T have that problem.

3. Don't become what I call a "professional MS'er." If we let ourselves center on MS, we may overlook the positive aspects of our lives and may lose touch with the stimulation available through really living life to the fullest!
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Rogers, Suzanne L.
Publication:Inside MS
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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