Around half of all people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have trouble at some point with what experts call “cognitive functions.” This can include problems with your memory, attention, judgement, and ability to learn. Cognitive obstacles can lower the quality of your social, work, and personal life. The good news is, there are many things you can do to regain those skills.
MS can cause you to have trouble learning, retaining, and recalling new information. To help keep your memory sharp:
Combine ways of learning. Use more than one of your senses to learn a new fact or skill. If you’re able to “see, say, hear, write, and do” something, you’ll be able to remember it better.
Another way to do this is through imagery. If you have a lot of tasks on your daily to-do list, it can help to create a mental picture. Instead of recalling each singular chore, think of a photo that combines each one. For example, if you need to get eggs at the store, cash a check, and call your friend, imagine a scene with you on the phone, cracking eggs, next to a table with your checkbook and a pen.
Memory aids. When you learn something new, like someone’s name or a new word, it’s helpful to link it to something else. Build a connection between a learned word and something you already are familiar with like a color, a relative’s name, or an event.
Repetition. Say something again after you hear it. This can help you make sure that it’s correct and improve your memory. Repeat the things you want to remember throughout the day. Spread these times out into intervals to help your brain store data.
Record. Use your phone or another recording device to remember your tasks. This can help you recall specifics if you no longer are able to think of them yourself.
Remind. Set alarms on your phone, watch, or microwave so that you don’t forget to do something. This is especially helpful when you have a full schedule.
MS might affect your concentration. To stay focused:
Get rid of distractions. Turn off your music, TV, or any other thing that could disturb you. Background noise and movement can make it harder for you to pay attention, learn, and remember things. If you’re in a loud area and can’t control the distractions, move to a quieter place.
Stick to one task at a time. Don’t try to multitask. If you do two or more things at the same time, you might lose focus. Complete your activity or find a good stopping point before you move onto another chore.
Take breaks. When you can’t focus, step away from the activity and rest. Come back with a refreshed mind to help concentrate.
With MS, it may become harder to manage your time and living space. But there are things you can do to stay on top of your schedule:
Keep things together. Create an area in your home for important information. Keep your mail, wallet, keys, bills, calendar, to-do lists, phone numbers, and other things here. This will help you stay organized and avoid searching for misplaced items.
Avoid clutter. Researchers have studied the harmful effects clutter can have on people with MS. Organize areas like your junk drawers, cabinets, and desks. This will help you recall where things are and provide structure to your home.
Plan. Mark down your events and create reminders. You can do this on a large calendar, agenda, or computer program that syncs to your smartphone. It’s also helpful to record your close family members’ or friends’ events so that you can keep track and avoid overbooking.