Ask the Expert – Cognitive Issues

Featuring Barry A. Hendin, MD
MSAA’s Chief Medical Officer

Headshot of doctor Barry Hendin, chief medical officer for MSAA
Barry Hendin, MD

Question: What strategies can you recommend to help with cognitive issues? 

Answer: First, let’s define cognition. Simply, it is all of the processes involved in learning, remembering, and expressing knowledge. It involves how we perceive, how we think, and how we convey knowledge verbally and nonverbally. 

Although many people with MS, and at all stages of MS, express cognitive symptoms or problems, they are generally mild in nature. The most common complaints that I hear involve difficulties in memory, multitasking, learning new information, and processing speed.

Some cognitive changes may be due to MS itself. Often, however, the problems are due to, or are compounded by, other factors such as poor sleep, medication effect, pain, or depression. The first strategy, therefore, is to assess the contribution of mood, pain, medications, and sleep – and then treat them appropriately. 

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You Know You Have MS When . . .

The day you receive a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis can feel surreal. It is common to be in denial and want to ignore it. But over time, you start to see that your symptoms match what the doctor explained would happen.

For most people, there is a moment when they cannot deny their symptoms or their diagnosis anymore. And life goes on.

To find out more about what that moment looks like, we turned to the MultipleSclerosis.net Facebook page. We asked the community to fill in the blank: “You know you have MS when _____________.”

More than 250 people in the community responded. Here is what they said.

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I Wish My Body Had a Dimmer Switch to Relax…

By Stacie Prada

It’s too bad our neurological wiring doesn’t include on/off dimmer switches like some of the electrical lights in my home. The central nervous system and myelin degradation caused by multiple sclerosis are often compared to electrical wires with the outer coating frayed or damaged. It seems only fitting that we should be able to extend the metaphor and enjoy the ability to increase or decrease the current through our nerves. The fantasy of being able to turn off or dim misfiring electrical signals to my arms and legs when spasticity is acting up is enticing.

Dimmer Switch written on a blue post-it talking about how to relax
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How Visual Patterns Affect People With Multiple Sclerosis

It may come as a surprise to many people that multiple sclerosis (MS) affects eyesight. But those living with MS know it can compromise parts of their vision, including depth perception.

MS affects the muscles in the body, sometimes including the muscles around the eyes. Having eye muscles that are weak or damaged can lead to complications like dizziness or vertigo. Like MS itself, these visual problems get worse with fatigue and stress.1

Illustration of woman with MS dizziness and vertigo covering face with hands and illustrative circles around her head

To find out more about the issues the MS community faces, we reached out on the MultipleSclerosis.net Facebook page. We asked, “Does patterned flooring or wallpaper ever make you feel unstable or put you into a feeling of vertigo?”

More than 200 people responded. Here is what they shared.

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Summoning Summer

By Stacie Prada

Well into July this year, summer weather hasn’t arrived where I live yet. Days are cool and pleasant, but intermittent rain and cloudy days persist.

A few days ago, I ordered an iced coffee for the first time this year. With my first sip, I had a strong sense of summer. It was an involuntary and automatic response where my exhale was one of complete satisfaction. It made it clear to me how much seasons are about more than the weather. I’d been waiting for summer to start, and I realized I can enjoy summer without waiting for the weather to change.

Summoning Summer written on a yellow post-it talking about summer weather
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All About the “h”

By Doug Ankerman

There are two sides to every issue. You have the pros & the cons, the agree & disagree and the ever-popular for & against.

Summer is one of those issues that is widely split. Some love it while others can’t stand the thought. As I will explain, the big difference between the two sides is all about the “h.”

Picture of a blue Etch A Sketch saying Ah Summer and Ahhhh Summer drawn by guest blogger Doug Ankerman

“Ah Summer!” people. They thrive during this season. Basking in the warmth. Soaking up the sun in all vitamin D glory. Energy & vitality all day long.

Meanwhile, “Ahhhh Summer!” people do their best to avoid the season’s amenities. Lurking in the shadows away from direct sun. Never straying far from AC or a powerful fan.

Unfortunately, those of us with multiple sclerosis tend to be in the “Ahhhh Summer!” group. The harsh sun drains our energy like a V-8 engine uses gas driving up a mountain. Plus, summer’s high temps and thick humidity soak us further into a wretched pile of human goo. But no need to suffer my friend as there are ways to make your summer pleasant & comfortable.  Here are a few of my favs…

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Ask the Expert – Numbness and MS

Featuring Barry A. Hendin, MD
MSAA’s Chief Medical Officer

Headshot of doctor Barry Hendin, chief medical officer for MSAA

Question: Does new or increased numbness indicate a worsening of MS, and is this symptom typically permanent, or can it subside on its own?

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Surprising Causes of My MS Flares

Learning how to live with MS takes time. Only through experience can someone learn which things in their environment trigger an MS flare. Many of these triggers can come as a total surprise.

To find out more about your experiences, we reached out on the MultipleSclerosis.net Facebook page and asked the community to fill in the blank: “I was surprised that ______ causes my multiple sclerosis to flare.”

More than 400 people responded. Here is what they shared.

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Balancing Whimsy and Invisible Forces

By Stacie Prada

Art that resonates with me changes depending on where I am in my life, how I’m feeling, and what I’m facing. Some things I loved at certain points in my life I love because they spoke to me at that time. I think if I were to first see some of them today, I would not connect in the same way as I did back then. I have some pieces that spoke to me during dark times that I chose to let go when times changed and they no longer brought me solace.  Others have endured through life changes and still resonate.

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What Is It Like Growing Up With MS?

MultipleSclerosis.net illustration of a cartoon hand with a blue crayon coloring blue and black word balloons

Getting a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis early in life can present unique challenges. Many teachers and principals are still learning how to best help students with MS. Also, young adults may not know how to act with a classmate who faces problems they do not understand. For young people with MS, this can cause a strain on their social life.

To find out more about these challenges, we asked our MultipleSclerosis.net Facebook community members: “Did or do you have MS as a kid, teen, or young adult? What was or is school and social life like?”

More than 150 people responded. Here is some of what they shared.

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