8 ways to manage memory gaps and cognitive problems

Managing memory gaps and other cognitive problems

 Quality of life · Article

Distractions, missing words, the name that escapes you even when it’s a close friend. Multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect a person’s attention, concentration, and memory. And these are just some of the signs that cognitive symptoms are worsening.

These are my strategies for managing cognitive symptoms.

Tips for your working life

I’m lucky that I have a lot of flexibility on how I manage my workload. Thanks to my part-time job, I work 4 out of 5 days at home, in the comfort of my apartment. That way I can avoid the fatigue and pain that many encounter when traveling to work.

Here are some other changes that work:

  • 1.   Take more breaks during the day
    • I used to be able to concentrate for 6 hours straight. Now this is impossible. That’s why I take regular but short breaks to have a coffee or take a shower. I used to take 2 hours for lunch. Now I take shorter lunch breaks, and more breaks during the day, so I still work the same number of hours.
  • 2.   Prioritise tasks
    • I always start with those that require the most attention and concentration early in the day and finish the day with easier tasks that require less energy.
  • 3.   Use technology and reminders
    • When it comes to keeping appointments, my phone works as my memory and saves me from covering my apartment in Post-its. However, to keep my brain active, I still try to remember the events before my phone reminds me.

Tips for your personal and social life

I also had to change much of my personal life to deal with the cognitive symptoms of my MS. These are some tips on how to do it:

  • 4.   Meditate
    • This helps me to focus my mind and gather my thoughts, which tend to be very scattered! Meditation offers me a space of rest and serenity and helps to improve my concentration.
  • 5.   Put less pressure on yourself
    • Before, I was always stressed and annoyed if I forgot a person’s name. But then I started laughing at my own forgetfulness and started to simply ask for the name again! Everyone, including people who don’t have an illness, has days when they are less effective. When I have a less productive day, I don’t feel guilty anymore. I just work more the next day—as long as I feel better. To be honest, I have significantly less pressure in my current job, so dealing with fatigue has become a lot easier.
  • 6.   Read or see friends every day
    • I read even when I’m tired, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. I also see friends to keep an active social life and stimulate my brain.
  • 7.   Respect your need for sleep
    • My 10-hour nights are sacred. Fatigue greatly increases my cognitive impairment, so I try to not go to bed too late.
  • 8.   Make your memory work
    • I test my memory by having fun and doing things that bring me pleasure. I love art, for example, so I take courses to learn new things about it. I definitely can’t remember everything I’ve learned so far, but that doesn’t matter because it makes me happy.
    • The only thing I don’t do is to play video games. Many people find them helpful, but they bore me to death! I will gladly return to learning English or Spanish, though—I find that a much better way to make my neurons work. Above all, I prefer what I call ‘intellectual activities’. For me, that’s the best way to remain active.

What I wish I knew sooner

If you’re like me, you might have had a hard time accepting how MS affects your cognitive functions. When I first felt that my brain was no longer functioning properly, I thought that there was something wrong with me. I felt less efficient, which is something hard to live with in today’s society. Now, with the support of my loved ones and the help of cognitive therapy (a kind of ‘rehabilitation of neurons’), I’ve realised that it’s possible to manage these symptoms and to remain productive. I hope you can feel that way too.

Why not learn more about MS or take on a ‘Dare’ in our Truth or Dare activity?

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