MS Reporter Natalie asks Neuropschologist Dawn Langdon about lifestyle changes that could prevent brain atrophy in people with MS.
What other lifestyle changes can I make/prevent to limit brain atrophy?
Dawn Well, a lot of it’s positive lifestyle choices. So it’s things about taking regular aerobic exercise and having that as part of your actual regime. So Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you go for a walk beside the river. Eating sensibly and healthily. Everybody knows what that is, it’s not so easy to do, but everybody knows what that is. Doing regular mentally challenging exercises, again, build that into your regime. So, you know, if you belong to a chess club, great. But try and find ways of stretching and challenging yourself, so for example, reading a book, great. Joining a group of friends who talk about a book they’ve read, better. Even better, write a short story, okay? So the more that you challenge yourself, the more that you’re going to be able to keep your function going as well and as long as possible.
Okay. Just to kind of clarify, if you could perhaps clarify what brain atrophy is for MSers who perhaps don’t know what that means, just so they have a better understanding of what that terminology is.
Okay, so brain atrophy describes the process that all of us are having happening at the moment, as we speak. Everyone in this building, their brains are atrophying, which means that very slightly, year on year, they’re losing a tiny percentage, not even a whole per cent, of their brain volume. And that means really the number of nerve cells that they have in their brain, which is like a huge – as you all know – it’s a huge sort of telephone exchange of switches and connections that kind of makes everything work. So what happens with people with MS and some other diseases is that their rate of loss of nerve cells, and therefore volume of the brain, is slightly quicker in terms of the loss. But it’s not dramatic, so if you think about a starry sky, imagine they’re all sort of nerve cells, if I showed you a picture and I’d taken ten or 20 stars away from one slide to the next, you wouldn’t see that, no-one would, but over time that handful of stars that’s going out over and over again gradually adds up and for people with MS that adds up to more than people who don’t have MS. So it’s slight, but over time it’s significant. And so the more nerve cells you can keep healthy and happy and firing in a perky and helpful way, therefore the more brain volume you can keep, the better your function will be in terms of cognition, in terms of physical function. So that’s really the atrophy story.
Professor Dawn Langdon is Professor of Neuropsychology at Royal Holloway University of London, she is co-chair at BICAMS, her other areas of expertise focus on BRIMMS (benefits and Risks of MS medications. She has been the neuropsychological lead on multiple MS trials in the pharmaceutical industry. She is also a trustee of the UK MS Trust.