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Tips and Tricks to Maximize Cognitive Function and Adapt to Changes

Tips and Tricks to Maximize Cognitive Function and Adapt to Changes

Adapting to changes in cognition

People with MS can achieve physical, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive wellbeing. Cognitive health is our ability to engage in challenging and mentally stimulating activities, which result in personal growth, increased productivity and creativity, and the ability to learn new things and be independent. Cognition is a huge part of who we are, and how we think about ourselves and the world around us. Throughout this series, we discussed what cognition is, how it is treated, and what research is being done. This article is going to discuss ways to adapt to changes in cognition, and I hope you will comment and let me and everyone else know about things that have (or have not) worked for you.

Memory

As we discussed earlier, short-term (not long-term) memory can be affected in MS. This can be one of the most frustrating and difficult symptoms to face. The first step in adapting is to acknowledge our losses while coming up with creative strategies to improve our daily lives. A few tips I have gathered include:

  • Write things down, and put notes in places that you will see them
  • Set alarms to remind you of important tasks, such as when to take medications
  • If you have difficulty remembering if you took your medications, try getting pill bottles that tell you when they were last opened (which can often be found at your local pharmacy), or using weekly/monthly pill organizers
  • Take pictures/videos of important things (such as documents, or where you parked your car) on your phone
  • Ask friends and family to help remind you of important tasks

Attention and multi-tasking

People with MS frequently think their memory has declined when the real issue is often difficulty with attention and multi-tasking. For instance, if you are paying bills and the doorbell rings, you may stop what you are doing, go to the door, decide to go out and check the mail, chat with a neighbor, pull some weeds you see out in the garden, and not realize the bills never got paid until your electricity is shut off! The problem is that you got distracted, and never returned to the original task that you were focused on. While this may seem like you forgot to pay the bills, it is actually a signal that you are struggling with attention and multi-tasking. Some strategies for overcoming these issues include:

  • Focusing on one task at a time; do not get sidetracked until the job is done
  • Do work that requires a lot of focus in secluded places
  • Minimize distractions- such as music, TV, or other people/pets (if possible!)
  • Plan out your day with a to-do list, and check off tasks as you go
  • Take breaks when you feel fatigued
  • Do tasks that require a lot of concentration at the time of day when you are the least fatigued
  • Pay attention to your physical comfort. For instance, pick a comfortable spot, optimize the temperature in the room, and go to the bathroom before sitting down. Physical discomfort distracts our brains, and makes it more difficult to focus.

Planning, prioritizing, and organizing

  • Keep your calendar organized, and check off things throughout the day
  • Make to-do lists, and use things like post-its liberally
  • Use GPS
  • Try phone apps to help you remember where you parked
  • Set alarms for important tasks
  • Make shopping lists
  • Keep notes with important information on your phone, or in your purse/wallet
  • If you misplace something (like your keys or wallet), keep it in the place where you first went looking for it
  • Keep your home and work environments well organized and free of clutter
  • Ask family and friends for help with planning and organizing events and outings
  • Set reminders for doctor’s appointments, and when your medications need to be refilled
  • Take advantage of automatic or recurring bill payments through your bank’s online site

Ways to promote cognitive health

  • Exercise regularly
  • Plan healthy meals ahead of time, and make grocery lists
  • Socialize with others as often as possible
  • Do things that challenge your mind, and that you also enjoy (such as art, playing music, puzzles, brain games, or reading)
  • Be a lifelong learner- there is always something new to learn! Figure out what interests you, and challenge your brain as often as possible
  • Take your medications on time, and as directed by your healthcare provider

Additional resources

Websites, webinars, and other educational resources

Sleep

Research

Tools

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • pmm
    5 months ago

    Thanks for the informative article with detailed suggestions to help cope with the cognitive issues. With me, the cognition problems and physical fatigue/lassitude seem to be coupled together, representing my most serious symptom. While exercise helps, the drugs prescribed by my neurologist to address the physical fatigue curiously provides the greatest improvement to my cognitive abilities (albeit temporary … just enough to get me through the work day hours). A scientist myself, I am curious as to the underlying physical cause of cognitive problems in MS patients — our cognitive health could perhaps be improved more effectively if the specific cause was known. In my own case, I have significant brain atrophy that is most pronounced in the hippocampus; I wonder if similar brain atrophy might be the “common denominator” among all MS patients who struggle as profoundly with cognitive problems as I do?

  • JimmyMac
    5 months ago

    Very well written articles with options for further research. I think the article starts after the patient realizes there are problems that are easier solved through recognition of the overall issue and then through brainstorming. This article clearly lists potential things to redefine how to remember. I know I kept insisting there wasn’t a paradigm shifting problem and had to start at trying to improve my long term memory in order to help my short term. I tried to remember my first memories then worked forward. Surprisingly this helped me a lot

  • Spratt
    5 months ago

    Very helpful article. As well as the memory issue, I also at times have difficulty understanding what is spoken to me. I simply interrupt and ask the person to please repeat and I listen more carefully. That does the trick for me.

  • i4n30d
    5 months ago

    My worst symptom
    Great tips
    Thanks

  • MzWort
    5 months ago

    I love this list! Cognition is one of my worst problems, primarily because it comes and goes.

    I have begun repeating things to myself to remember them. “You have four places to go…repeat them.” It’s amazing how much putting a number on tasks (four items to pick up, three errands) helps me remember them!

    I also tell myself, “Pay attention to this.” and then give myself a couple of seconds to review what it is I want to remember – where I parked my car, where I stashed my purse, what I was doing when interrupted.

    Lists are good – except when I leave them at home. So I force myself o use the notes app on my phone for any list that goes over five items. (Counting them off using my fingers helps me to recall them.)

    My most irritating problem with cognition is I no longer hear fast enough to follow rapid conversations. My hearing is excellent (I keep it tested), so it’s being able to translate sounds into words that’s the issue.

    Teaching myself to complete one task before starting another is coming along slowly. For long tasks, I visualize myself doing and COMPLETING the task before starting. It helps keeps me focused.

  • Donna Steigleder moderator
    5 months ago

    Great ideas. Thanks for sharing. Another suggestion is to use the recording option on your phone if you have trouble hearing and writing down. It allows you to play back over and over. Donna S. Moderater Multipulesclerosis.net

  • Piper71a
    5 months ago

    Suduko has really helped with my cognition. Allows me to focus early in the morning. Lists for shopping and daily reminders on my phone. Good article, I’m sure there are more ideas I can work into my day.

  • Christine F moderator
    5 months ago

    Sodoku is a great idea! Thank you for sharing, @piper71a! Best, Christine, Multiplesclerosis.net Team Member

  • Lucylucylucy
    5 months ago

    Very helpful suggestions 🙂

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