MS and Cognitive Dysfunction

People with MS commonly report symptoms such as fatigue, numbness/tingling, along with walking and coordination issues, however almost half also report cognitive issues. In a recent survey conducted of people with MS, 45% reported experiencing cognitive dysfunction among those symptoms they endure most frequently.

The online MS in America 2015 survey gathered insights from 5,927 individuals in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The study not only asked individuals about their symptoms and diagnosis journey, it also examined quality of life and treatment experience.

At the time of diagnosis, only 11% of respondents reported cognitive dysfunction, 80% of which continued to report it as a current symptom. Of those currently experiencing cognitive problems, only 19% reported it at the time of their MS diagnosis. Looking further, there was a significantly higher proportion of people with progressive relapsing (56%) reporting cognitive dysfunction than people with RRMS (44%) and those with primary progressive (45%), however similar amount to those with secondary progressive (50%).

Respondents accounted that various aspects of their cognitive function have been negatively impacted by MS; see chart below. One third of respondents cited that cognitive dysfunction had “significant impact” on everyday life and 57% reported “some impact.” Surprisingly with such impact, only 49% have had their cognitive function evaluated by a healthcare professional.

MS and Cognitive Function

Of those experiencing cognitive dysfunction issues, 58% reported taking specific steps to mitigate or minimize its influence on their lives; the top 5 commonly used techniques include:

  1. Make lists (88%)
  2. Keep a calendar (82%)
  3. Keep notes (79%)
  4. Do “brain exercises,” such as crossword puzzles and games (70%)
  5. Keep items in the same place (65%)

Wondering how those suffering cognitive dysfunction manage in other aspects of their lives as compared to other people with MS, the two groups significantly differed in their employment status. A total of 24% of those experiencing cognitive dysfunction were employed full-time as compared to 37% of others with MS, and 44% were on disability compared to 31% of other people with MS. Beyond career impact, those with cognitive issues were significantly more likely to report having difficulty getting things done around the house as compared to others who have MS (70% as compared to 53%).

While the physical symptoms of MS may be more noticeable day to day, cognitive dysfunction can have a real impact on those with MS. It's always a good idea to discuss any symptoms, including cognitive issues, with your doctor as part of your routine check up.

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