Most of the nerves in your body are covered with a protective layer called myelin. It’s a lot like the insulation on electric wires. It helps messages from your brain move quickly and smoothly through your body, like electricity flows from a power source.
Demyelinating disorders damage myelin. When this happens, scar tissue forms in its place. Brain signals can’t move across scar tissue as quickly, so your nerves don’t work as well as they should. As a result, you might have trouble talking,...
“There are lots of physical issues that people with MS struggle with,” says Bart Rypma, associate professor of behavioral and brain science at the University of Texas, Dallas. “But it’s the cognitive changes -- slowing of thought -- that they experience most immediately.”
You may notice that you:
Solve problems more slowly
Lose track of conversations
Can’t follow directions
Need constant reminders about daily tasks
There are ways to get around these problems and make it easier to do what you need, and want, to do.
Why It Happens
The problem, Rypma says, is that communication breaks down between your brain cells and the blood vessels that provide the nutrients that help them work. That makes it harder for your brain to do its job.
Remember that pot of coffee? “Filling up the water, scooping the coffee into the filter, flipping on the switch -- that’s a set of skills that resides in your short-term memory,” Rypma says. “It may seem like you’re doing it by rote, but that’s just the brain working efficiently on its own.”
When you have MS and find that you have to repeatedly talk yourself through each step before going on to the next one, it may be a sign that the guidance systems in your brain have been slowed down by MS. Those brain cells don’t talk to each other as well as they should.
“It’s not that you won’t be able to do all your normal tasks,” Rypma says. “But it could take you longer.”
How to Clear Away the Fog
“Just because cognitive changes are common doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about them,” says Sylvia Klineova, MD, of the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “After all, your brain can be trained.”