Natalie Do I need to preserve it as early as possible after diagnosis ?
Dawn Well, I’m going to say yes to that, and that’s not to panic people, okay? Most people at diagnosis have, you know, to all intents and purposes normal cognition, so it’s not really noticeable. They might feel a bit fatigued, but in terms of their performance, most of them, it won’t actually show any effect of the MS. But the point is that, you know, you’re on this sort of trajectory, you’re on this line, and so the more you can do to slow up the slope of that line and slow up the progress of that line, the longer you’re going to be happy, healthy, functioning well. And so it’s about staying on the right track as long as you can. So I would say, if you have just been diagnosed, I know there’s a lot to deal with, but if you really want to take MS by the throat and give it a tough time, which I like to recommend people I see do, then you know, bang on, let’s start right now. You know, war on MS, and let’s get those positive lifestyle changes going and let’s keep everything as positive and good and active and functional as possible for as long as possible.
Natalie> And in terms of lifestyle changes to make immediately in the aftermath, what would you suggest are the most kind of positive and effective to, really, as you say, kind of get it under control and get it to grips and really kind of accept it and deal with it as much as you can?
Dawn Well, most people at diagnosis, obviously there’s an issue about medication, so clearly getting the medication sorted out, making sure that the MS is monitored while you’re on the medication, making sure that you get the medication that you need and that you take it properly. And I know that sounds hugely nannyish and I’m always being faced by GPs who say, ‘Are you taking these as recommended?’, and I always think, you know, that I always feel like giving a clever answer to that. But it is really important that that side of things is managed properly and if you’re in a system or you’re with a group of health professionals where you’re not getting the best help, the right help, what you deserve, then it really is worth, although it’s hard, to make the effort to go to a, find a group of professionals, a GP or a clinic or a service where they’re going to do it properly for you. So don’t compromise on the treatment, don’t accept second best. After that, the positive lifestyle changes are the things that, you know, we’ve perhaps spoken about. So it’s, build in aerobic exercise three times a week, maybe even join a club or join a walking group, or whatever’s right for you and your group. Build in some kind of cognitive challenge, so you know, we’ve talked about chess clubs. Story writing clubs, art classes, something which kind of is quite demanding. Maybe even learn another language or brush up your Spanish for your holidays. You know, something which is new and challenging. If you play a musical instrument, maybe you do, then maybe learning a new piece of music every month is good. So it’s all about challenging and doing something new. And obviously, all the normal health issues about managing any diseases you’ve got – diabetes, cardiovascular – eating a healthy diet, keeping a healthy weight, all of those things. They sound easy, maybe they’re not so easy, but they will all, they’re all stacking up credit in the bank for you when the MS pathology starts rolling out. You see, that’s your war chest against the MS pathology, and it works.
Natalie asks Dawn how soon someone needs to preserve brain health after diagnosis? Natalie asks what lifestyle changes are the most positive to help protect brain health.
This interview is part of an MS Reporters Sponsored Series on brain health, supported by Novartis.
MS Reporter: Natalie
MS Expert: Dawn Langdon is a Professor in Neuropsychology at Royal Holloway. Her research work centres on psychological aspects of MS including the efficacy of medication in protecting cognition and cognitive rehabilitation.