Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The disease damages myelin, a fatty substance that normally surrounds and protects the nerves. It can also damage the nerves (called axons) within the central nervous system.
Results of this damage can range from mild (numbness in the limbs) to severe (paralysis or vision loss). About half of people with MS experience problems with concentration,...
Often these problems are mild and don't really interrupt your daily life. It's pretty rare to have severe thinking problems. They affect about 5% to 10% of people with MS.
Signs of Impaired Thinking in MS
The clues that you have fuzzy thinking due to MS are often subtle. You might not notice them until a friend, co-worker, or family member points them out. You may:
Struggle to find the right words to say
Forget things you need to do or tasks already done
Find it hard to plan or set priorities
Have trouble concentrating, especially when two things are happening at once
MS usually does not hurt your intelligence or long-term memory. It won't change your ability to read or carry on a conversation.
Tests and Diagnosis for Impaired Thinking
If you suspect impaired thinking, talk with your neurologist or family doctor. Fuzzy thinking can have many causes.
Your doctor can make sure your problems don't come from normal aging or drugs that may cause confusion, depression, anxiety, or fatigue.
Once you have any health problems fully treated, the next step is usually testing. Your doctor may refer you to a neuropsychologist, speech pathologist, or occupational therapist.
MS and Rehab for Your Brain
If test results show that MS is to blame for spotty memory or poor mental focus, you may want to try rehab to sharpen your thinking. It can include:
Memory exercises on a computer
Home or work strategies with notebooks, organizers, or filing systems to help you remember things
It’s possible, but rare, that thinking problems become so severe that someone with MS needs constant care or can't live on their own. If this becomes an issue, discuss your options with your doctor and family. A social worker or psychologist also can help explore options for care.
Can Medicine Help?
Scientists are doing studies to see whether the drugs that slow the nerve damage in MS -- called disease-modifying medicines -- can help with thinking problems, too.
Others are looking at treatments, such as Alzheimer’s medications, that may temporarily improve your memory and focus. Ask your doctor to give you updates on any promising results.