Cognitive impairment is one of the most common hidden symptoms of MS. Lots of us have experienced the dreaded “brain fog” and we convince ourselves that memory loss and confusion are inevitable consequences of having an MS diagnosis.
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are quite a few things that can help to keep your brain working at it’s best and mitigate the symptoms.
Diet is one of the most important things to be aware of. There are a number of different diets that claim to help the symptoms of MS from the Terry Wahls Diet for MS, the OMS Diet, the direct MS diet and several others. They all vary a little in what they recommend and what they “allow” but one of the most important things they emphasise is eating a variety of fresh, non-processed and natural food.
Mental stimulation means keeping the brain as active as possible, this can be anything from reading the newspapers regularly, taking part in quizzes to learning a new language. Studies have shown that for each additional language someone learns it helps to stave off the risk of dementia by up to 5 years! Learning quite literally rewires the brain which can be crucial for those of us who have experienced cognitive issues. Even something as simple as tackling the crossword will help to stimulate your brain.
There are literally thousands of studies on the benefits of meditation, a study from UCLA showed that meditation helps to protect the brain from decline and another study from John Hopkins showed that the benefits of meditation actually rival antidepressants in helping to prevent and alleviate anxiety and depression.
Exercising for just 20 minutes will help to facilitate information processing and memory functions. more research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise made it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections by increasing growth factors. Increasing your heart rate will also pump more oxygen to the brain and will help to increase cell growth in the hippocampus, an area responsible for learning and memory.
Strong social ties are associated with a lower risk of dementia and cognitive decline. For people who are restricted in mobility, the internet with it’s social networks has been a godsend. Try to ensure that you don’t lose touch with friends and make an effort to keep in touch with people. Making the effort to volunteer and help other people is a great way to expand your network
We all underestimate how important this is and research suggests that one person in three is chronically sleep deprived. Sleep improves brain function, memory and the ability to learn and to retain new information. Speak to your MS Nurse to see what is available to help if you’re experiencing sleep loss. Working out a better balance should positively affect your overall energy levels.