Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Slow Down!

Janet writes: This morning we were watching news stories on the H1N1 virus. TV news has changed since we were kids. Journalists used to have more time to present their stories and they were easier to follow. Today stories are presented in 1 to 30 second time slots, with very quick snippets of reporting and video. You really have to pay close attention to understand the central information of the story.

Anyway, the first story reported on the increased availability of the H1N1 vaccine in our area, expanding eligibility to people up to age 64 with chronic medical conditions. This would make Tim eligible to receive the vaccine, which is what he has been waiting for. While we were still focused on this story, the anchorwoman segwayed right into the second story about a local man who developed complications from H1N1 and was hospitalized for pneumonia. Tim had an extremely difficult time following this story and thought the reporter said that the man developed the complications from the H1N1 vaccine. I had to clarify the story for him after the fact. Tim started sputtering about the accuracy of news reporting, as he often does, but I stopped his rant and assured him that the story was accurate, just presented too quickly. Tim was convinced that the anchorwoman missed some key words in her report that prevented the story from being accurate.

Our news episode this morning is a classic example of the difficulty that cognitive problems caused by MS can create with receiving and processing information. A person with MS who has these cognitive issues is perfectly capable of receiving, processing, and understanding information. Due to the nerve damage along these pathways that the MS has caused, they require extra processing time to do it.

What does this mean? Easy – slow down! Our world has become a whirl of snippets of information, presented in flashes that your brain has to snatch and process in seconds as you run from place to place, meeting the demands of your impossible schedule. MS prevents a person from living this kind of life style and support people, or anyone else, shouldn’t expect a person with MS to do so.

Here are some easy ways to adapt to our insane world when you have processing speed issues caused by MS:

1. When speaking to other people, eliminate outside distractions. Speak at a normal rate, don’t rush. Support partners, you don’t have to slow down abnormally or speak loudly, like some people do when they speak to anyone with a disability. (How degrading is that?)

2. If you miss key words the first time, ask the speaker to repeat what was said. If you are the speaker and you want to make sure you were understood, ask if you need to repeat or ask the person to repeat what you just said. Your support partner can help by asking for repetitions if you can’t get the request out quickly enough.

3. Get important news and information from the internet or newspaper. You can read at your own speed and replay video clips to pick up words that you miss. Talk radio is another good resource, as many news items are presented in depth. You do have to be able to pay attention to verbal conversation for longer periods of time to listen to talk radio.

4. Don’t be afraid to have your support partner run interference for you in group conversations. Clarifying a couple of key words can help you catch the flow of what is being said and allow you to stay involved in the discussion. If your support partner will not be with you (and the group you will be with does not know about your problem), tell someone in the group that you know and trust, or tell the group facilitator. They may be able to help you without causing you extra attention that you don’t want.

5. Record important presentations or request any available CD or video formats that you can play back later at your own pace. You can clarify information that you need in this manner.

If you have these cognitive processing issues caused by MS, it is very important to remember that you don’t have Alzheimer’s, you aren’t going crazy, and you aren’t stupid. Most people with MS who have these issues still retain all the information they have learned over the years. They just have a little more difficulty accessing it due to the damage MS has caused. Don’t beat up on yourself. Just adapt to the situation and slow down!

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