Devin's Tips for Cog Fog: Part Two
Recently, I gave some tips on how to combat the cognitive issues that so many of us with MS encounter (see Part 1 here). Here are some more areas to look at to give yourself a better chance when dealing with cognitive problems.
Mind your environment
There are so many environmental factors that can trigger our MS symptoms. That includes the various cognitive problems we can encounter. Temperature is a pretty big issue for me; if it’s too warm or too cold, nothing about my body will be functioning correctly, including my cognitive abilities. Everyone is different, so it’s important to figure out what triggers your symptoms. Then do your best to avoid or counter them.
I think that any time one of your systems ramps up, you’re likely to suffer cognitively. Many of our symptoms are like dominoes; when one falls, it usually makes another fall, and so on. This is particularly true when it comes to fatigue. Fatigue makes everything worse and while you are already likely trying to fight fatigue, it’s important to highlight that fatigue may be the cause of your cognitive problem. Lessen your fatigue some and you might just see some improvement with the way you think.
MS or not, getting good sleep is critical to keeping your cognitive abilities fresh. Sleep can be a huge challenge for those with MS. Things like painsomnia, anxiety, and muscle spasms can really have an impact on the quality of our sleep. Like fatigue, when it comes to cognitive problems, it’s important to evaluate how well you sleep. You’ll be surprised how many things can improve if you focus your efforts on getting a good, truly restful night of sleep. If you are unsure about your sleep, some people have had great success using a FitBit or similar type of device to monitor it. Some folks think they are getting a restful sleep when they really aren’t. A device like that will let you know for sure.
Again, this may sound obvious, but if you're having cognitive problems, you should look to eliminate distractions. There was a time where I prided myself on my multitasking ability. That time is long since gone though. The smallest of stimuli is enough to distract me these days. Background or sudden noises of any kind and even not having objects in the same place are enough to give me problems. When I really need to concentrate, like when I’m trying to write something like this, I actually have a pair of headphones I put on. They aren’t quite noise-canceling (those can be pricey), but they are close (they’re actually meant to be worn on a shooting range). They help eliminate any extra or sudden noises and help me concentrate better.
At first, I was going to say you need to declutter; then, I looked at my desk. Sure, organizing and eliminating extra items is important. However, I find that making it make sense to you is what is important. My desk may look like a mess to some, but it’s how I have it and I know where everything is. If it suddenly changed, even if it looked less cluttered, I’d probably have trouble with it. So sure, organize and declutter, but most of all, make your area yours, make it make sense to you.
Take care of yourself
When I am experiencing cognitive issues, I usually start to overlook other aspects of my day. If things become very difficult, sometimes I need a snack or a nap. When you are having symptoms that affect the way you remember and think, it’s common to forget to eat or rest. Snacks and naps are always worth a try in my book. Sometimes both :)
Don’t be hard on yourself
At their best, cognitive problems are incredibly frustrating. At their worst, they are absolutely terrifying. If you haven’t experienced them, they are hard to explain. In my own case, to go from an educated person who used his brain for a living to what I am now feels absolutely devastating. Not only being unable to do the things I once did, but to have trouble with the most basic of tasks because I can’t remember, or can’t concentrate, or am unable to figure something out elicits all sorts of emotions. I get frustrated, angry, and depressed over what my mind has become.
Glimpses of my past abilities
I do have occasional moments of clarity, when things feel like they are firing on all cylinders, reminders of what I once was. When those moments end, it’s devastating, like a tease of what was and what could have been. That inevitably leads to me getting pretty down on myself. It’s a real struggle and it’s something you have to fight. We have to remember that it’s not our fault that these things are happening. We didn’t choose this. Our brains can still function, just not all the time. I try to tell myself that I still have all that information up there, I just can’t always access it. It’s important to learn to not be hard on yourself (trust me, plenty of people will do that for you) if you are going to live with these symptoms.
How well do people around you understand MS?