You may be able to manage cognitive changes from MS with cognitive rehabilitation and other treatments. Adjusting your routine, like using an agenda, can also help.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause physical symptoms and cognitive changes, such as not being able to focus or concentrate.

MS can potentially affect:

  • memory
  • attention and focus
  • the ability to process information
  • the ability to prioritize and plan
  • language use and word-finding

If you notice signs of cognitive changes, taking a proactive approach to managing and limiting them can help. If left unmanaged, cognitive changes can significantly affect your quality of life and daily activities.

Read on to learn about some of the ways you can cope with the potential cognitive effects of MS.

About 34–65% of people with MS experience cognitive symptoms. The cognitive effects of MS are often mild and affect only one to two areas of cognition. But they can be more severe in some people.

Common symptoms you may notice include:

  • having trouble finding the right words
  • having trouble with decision making
  • having more trouble concentrating than usual
  • having trouble processing information
  • reduced job or school performance
  • more difficulty performing usual tasks
  • changes in spatial awareness
  • memory problems

These symptoms can lead to low self-esteem, mood changes, or depression.

Though you can experience cognitive changes at any point, they are more common in people who’ve had MS for a longer time and have more brain lesions.

Not all cognitive symptoms occur due to MS-related brain changes. Even if you have MS, the cause could be cognitive changes, such as aging or other health issues.

Talking with a doctor and requesting a cognitive screening can help them better understand your symptoms and their cause.

A doctor may use one or more tests to better understand what you’re experiencing. They might also refer you to a psychologist or other healthcare professional for more in-depth testing.

Cognitive testing can help identify changes in your cognitive abilities. It might also help pinpoint the cause of those changes.

With MS, cognitive symptoms may develop at any stage of the condition. As the condition progresses, the possibility of cognitive issues increases. Cognitive changes can be subtle and difficult to detect.

To identify potential changes early, a doctor may use screening tools. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommendations, people with MS should be screened for cognitive changes every year.

To help limit cognitive symptoms, a doctor might recommend one or more treatments.

For example, several memory and learning strategies have shown promise for improving cognitive function in people with MS. This can include therapies such as:

  • cognitive rehabilitation exercises
  • compensatory strategies, including the Story Memory Technique
  • telerehabilitation
  • aerobic exercise
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • getting enough sleep
  • reducing stress

Regular physical activity and good cardiovascular fitness might also promote good cognitive health.

Some medications can cause side effects that affect your cognition, or mental well-being. If a doctor believes your cognitive symptoms are a side effect of medication, they might suggest a change to your treatment plan.

A doctor might also recommend treatments for other health conditions that can affect your cognitive functions. For example, if you have depression, they might prescribe antidepressant medications, psychological counseling, or a combination of both.

Some strategies and adjustments can help you manage changes in your focus and concentration abilities. These can include:

  • getting plenty of rest and taking breaks when you feel fatigued
  • avoiding multitasking, if you can, and focusing on one thing at a time
  • limiting distractions by turning off the television, radio, or other sources of background noise when working on mentally challenging tasks
  • recording important thoughts, to-do lists, and reminders in a central location, such as a journal, agenda, or note-taking app
  • using an agenda or calendar to plan and keep track of important appointments or commitments
  • setting smartphone alerts or placing post-it notes in visible places as reminders to complete daily tasks
  • asking people around you to speak more slowly if you’re having trouble processing what they say

If you’re finding it difficult to manage your responsibilities at work or home, consider limiting your commitments. You could also ask for help from colleagues or family members.

If you can no longer work due to cognitive symptoms, you might be eligible for government-sponsored disability benefits. A doctor may refer you to a social worker who can help you learn about the application process. It might also help to connect with a community legal assistance office or disability advocacy organization.

What are the cognitive issues associated with MS?

People with MS may have difficulties with memory and processing information. They may also have issues multitasking or finding the right word when speaking or writing. These changes can result in lowered performance at work or school tasks and managing items like paying bills or arranging your schedule.

What are the signs of cognitive issues?

Cognitive issues may cause symptoms that affect learning and remembering information, following and participating in conversations, planning, and processing information.

Can MS cause dementia-like symptoms?

People with MS can experience symptoms of changes to memory, planning, processing information, attention, and word retrieval. However, other health conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease, can also cause cognitive changes, so it’s best to talk with a doctor about any cognitive symptoms you experience.

Although MS can potentially affect your memory, learning, and other cognitive functions, you can take some steps to help manage those changes.

Let a doctor know if you experience any cognitive symptoms.

They might recommend:

  • cognitive rehabilitation exercises
  • changes to your medication regimen
  • adjustments to your daily activities

You can also use a variety of strategies and tools to cope with cognitive challenges at work and at home.