This month we’ve been talking about MS symptoms that aren’t spoken about or mentioned as often as other symptoms within the MS community. Some of the symptoms highlighted so far have been issues with incontinence and bowel and bladder challenges. On the My MSAA Community peer-to-peer forum, we recently asked a poll question about which commonly overlooked MS symptoms individuals would like to learn more about, and one of the results has been cognition. Though many individuals are experiencing this issue, it’s still not one discussed very often, and it’s hard not to wonder why.
With the multitude of research that has been – and continues to be – done on MS, issues with cognition are still questioned and sometimes aren’t even associated with the disease itself. Individuals often ask if MS can affect their cognition and thinking when they notice certain changes, and the answer is unfortunately yes – this, too, is another area that MS can influence. If parts of the brain that control judgement, memory, thinking, and reason are affected by MS disease activity and inflammation, then symptoms can manifest and cognitive changes can occur. Sometimes individuals do not know that cognitive changes can be a symptom of MS and they ask if there is something else going on, or is it due to getting older/the aging process itself, or stress, etc. Bringing this and other types of symptoms that aren’t discussed as frequently to the forefront will help increase awareness of them being related to MS, and in turn, start conversations on how to address them.
There are several types of feelings that can be provoked by cognition changes due to MS, and embarrassment is a feeling that oftentimes accompanies this symptom. Individuals can feel self-conscious and uncomfortable if they’re experiencing issues with their memory and thinking—especially when interacting with others or trying to fulfill work or relationship roles. Shame and guilt can be other feelings associated with cognitive difficulties too. People feel they should still be able to do certain things and not have to ask for help or admit they can’t do what they once did. It’s very common for these types of feelings to emerge when it comes to such an impactful symptom that can effect day to day situations so easily. But knowing that you don’t have to feel ashamed or guilty if it does occur is key – and so is knowing that you can talk about it with others who are supportive and can identify with you, as you are not alone in this symptom issue.
MS sets out to be a thief not only of physical body functions, but also of mind operation as well, and it’s to no fault of those affected. It’s important to recognize if you are experiencing cognitive changes or challenges, and to bring it to a healthcare professional’s attention so you can work together to try and address it. MS may have its own agenda, but you can show your power with proactive steps in symptom management and self-care and awareness.