Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) can affect both physical health and cognitive abilities.
According to a review published in 2019, small studies have found that roughly 55 to 80 percent of people with SPMS experience some form of cognitive impairment.
The condition may affect memory and slow down the speed at which the brain processes information. It may also reduce communication abilities, reasoning faculties, or attention span. These cognitive effects are often mild and manageable, but they can vary in severity from person to person.
You can take steps to help maintain your cognitive health if you live SPMS. To manage the cognitive effects of SPMS, it’s important to be proactive. Here are some of the strategies you can use to identify and manage cognitive changes.
SPMS is a progressive condition. Over time, it can cause new cognitive symptoms to develop. It can also cause existing symptoms to get worse.
To identify cognitive changes, go for regular screenings. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) recommends that people with MS be screened for cognitive changes every year.
It’s also important to let your doctor know if you notice changes in your cognitive abilities. For example, you might be experiencing cognitive changes if you’re:
- forgetting things more than you used to
- having difficulty finding the right words to express yourself
- finding it harder keep up with conversations or familiar activities
- showing signs of impaired judgment or decision-making skills
- finding it harder to navigate social relationships
- receiving worse evaluations at school or work
If you notice changes in your memory, concentration, or other cognitive abilities, let your doctor know. They may use one or more tests to check for cognitive decline.
If you experience cognitive decline, your doctor may use one or more tests to identify the cause of those changes.
SPMS is one of many things that can affect your cognition. Your cognitive abilities may also be impaired by other medical conditions, certain medications, or lifestyle factors.
Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause of the cognitive changes. Your doctor may also refer you to a psychologist or other specialist for testing and treatment.
To manage cognitive symptoms of SPMS, a healthcare provider may teach you how to perform cognitive rehabilitation exercises. These learning and memory techniques have shown promise in trials for improving cognitive abilities in people with MS.
Your doctor or specialist may also encourage you to participate in mentally stimulating activities. This may help build your cognitive reserves. For example, you might find it helpful to complete crossword puzzles, play card games, write poetry, or learn to play a musical instrument.
If your doctor or specialist believes that the cognitive changes are the result of another medical condition, they may recommend other treatments to manage it.
If they think the cognitive changes are a side effect of medication that you’re taking, they may recommend changes to your treatment plan.
They may also advise you to make changes to your diet, exercise routine, or sleep habits. An overall healthy lifestyle is important for supporting your physical and mental health.
Tweaking your daily habits may help you manage changes to your cognitive abilities.
For example, it might help to:
- Make more time for rest and take breaks when you feel fatigued or distracted.
- Focus on one thing at a time and limit the amount of multitasking that you do.
- Reduce background noise and other distractions when you’re trying to concentrate.
- Use an agenda, journal, or note-taking app to keep track of upcoming appointments, to-do lists, important ideas, and other information.
- Set alerts on your smartphone to remind yourself about important dates, deadlines, or daily tasks.
If you’re finding it hard to manage your responsibilities, you may need to scale back on your commitments at work, at school, or in your personal life.
If you can no longer work due to the cognitive effects of SPMS, let your doctor know. They may refer you to a social worker or other professional who can help you learn if you’re eligible for government-sponsored disability benefits.
SPMS can potentially affect memory and other cognitive abilities. In many cases, those changes can be managed with rehabilitative therapy, lifestyle changes, or other coping strategies.
If you think you might be experiencing cognitive symptoms, let your doctor know. They can help you identify the cause of those changes and develop a treatment plan. They may also refer you to a psychologist or other trained expert for support.