Thursday, February 25, 2010

More Exercise For Your Brain

Janet writes: Ok, this article made me want to go on a vegan diet and walk 5 miles. A long term Swedish study has linked a higher Body Mass Index in middle age to lower general cognitive ability and a steeper decline over time. Here’s the link (thanks to Charles Violet).

Here’s my question, though. Does obesity cause cognitive decline or does cognitive decline cause obesity? Couldn’t this work both ways? The inactivity that leads to obesity causes cardiovascular problems that could lead to cognitive decline. On the flip side, cognitive decline could lead to decreased activity levels that could cause obesity. While I realize the first one is probably the cause for most people, I could see it working both ways, especially if a person has an existing medical condition such as MS.

Tim and I probably won’t go on a vegan diet. But we can certainly turn off the TV and get moving!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Exercise For Your Brain

Janet writes: Tim has had difficulty in the brain department this week. He has been more forgetful and has needed notes and lists for most things. Now we know why. He has been slacking on his Wii Fit workouts! Here’s an article posted on DNA about the benefits of exercise on brain function for people with MS. According to this research study, MS patients with a higher level of fitness perform better on tests of mental processing speed. It makes sense – more blood to your brain, easier time thinking things through. (Thanks to Kath Ibbetson for posting this link!)

We got the Wii so Tim could do both physical and cognitive exercise at his own pace at home. He can’t handle the fast pace at the Y, and walking isn’t always easy on icy sidewalks. When we exercise regularly, he does pretty well at keeping up with our daily schedule. This week, though, he’s been my chauffer to doctor’s appointments and has been our home remodeling expert as he’s building out our basement. He has had no time or energy for Wii, and the result is a decline in his cognitive status. It's not a permanent thing. He just needs to pump some blood to his brain.

I guess it’s time to get off the couch and back at Wii Fit. Advanced Hula Hoop, here we come!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time To Learn

Janet writes: The spring 2010 issue of Momentum has an interesting article on memory loss, starting on p. 38. It goes into a lot of detail about the different types of memory and what memory functions are involved for most people with MS. The article gives an in depth description about why people with MS take longer to learn new information.

This article reports that, when given extra time, people with MS are able to learn and remember tasks just as well as people without MS. They just perform slower. The article poses the question “If students in school who have learning difficulties can have extended time, why can’t adults with learning difficulties have the same accommodations on the job?” (Genova, p. 41).

Tim has experienced this problem in the past. He had jobs that had deadline requirements and projects that required a lot of input from a lot of other people. He could not keep up with the demand. I used to hear Tim say “I can’t do it!” quite often. Through trial and error and a lot of encouragement from me, Tim has found that he can do quite a few things, in fact, but it takes him a longer period of time to learn a new process. He also needs an environment with no distractions when he is learning something new. Given these two accommodations, however, he has managed to learn quite a few things. I don’t hear “I can’t” as much anymore. Now I hear “I need more time” and “Make that #@$% dog be quiet!” (Tim loves his dog but his bark is very loud.) (The dog’s bark, not Tim’s.)

I think this is an important point to remember if you are trying to survive the working world with cognitive symptoms resulting from MS. More time, rest breaks, and extended deadlines might be your key to keeping your job. I realize this is dependent on having an employer who is willing to work with you and will not discriminate based on your disability, as employers are supposed to do. However, these accommodations are quite easy and, for the most part, inexpensive for companies to make. In the right environment, a little self advocacy might not hurt. In the wrong environment…well, if your employer is ready to boot you out the door because of your MS, it’s probably time to find a new job anyway. And maybe a good lawyer…

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sometimes It’s Not Just You

Janet writes: We are having one of those days today. A dragging, slow moving, unmotivated, can’t think of anything day. We just want to go back to bed and sleep! Tim can’t think about much of anything and neither can I. Uuugh!

The consolation prize is…neither can anyone else. Everyone I have talked to today feels the same way: tired, sluggish, unmotivated. It seems to be the general atmosphere.

Cognitive symptoms can really rear up on days like this. If you have this kind of day, don’t push yourself to get things done. You will probably just get frustrated and give up. Take it easy and try again tomorrow, when that “uuugh” feeling is gone and you have more energy. Your overall wellbeing will influence how you think.

The other people around you? Well, they will understand. They feel the same way, after all. The general comment I hear on days like this is “It must be the weather!”

Monday, February 8, 2010


Janet writes: I read this blog entry today and it touched a nerve: Tears of Hope and Passionate Hate. The author writes about wishing for his wife to be healed and hating the MS that has taken her abilities away. I know how he feels.

Tim and I met in 2005. To me, he has always had MS. He has always had trouble finding words and remembering things. He has always walked a little funny. He has always complained of muscle cramps in his legs and has always had a little trouble feeling things with his left hand. To me, he has always been this way.

But I often wonder what Tim was like before MS. How did he walk? How did he think? What could he do then that he can’t do now? What if he didn’t have to struggle with this disease? Tim is my man and I will always love him, MS or no MS. But I do wonder, what if there was no MS?

I can relate to how this blog author feels, for I also hate MS and I also pray for effective treatments to help my husband. Maybe someday, with the efforts of many who research and promote knowledge of MS, my prayers will be answered “yes”.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Information Please?

Janet writes: I found this question and answer thread on and it reminded me that people newly diagnosed with MS just don’t receive enough information from their physicians. Doctors still seem to run around the cognitive symptoms MS can cause. I don’t know if these doctors are unaware of how MS affects cognition, or if they just don’t want to talk about it with patients because it’s a difficult topic, or a little of both? A good neurologist will make sure that new MS patients receive all the information they need to take care of themselves, or at least the resource information brochures for the NMSS and local support groups.

Fortunately, this woman’s question was answered by people experiencing the same symptoms. I think they were able to reassure her that memory problems can be a part of MS and there are many ways to compensate.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Too Tired to Think

Janet writes: Tim and I have both been really tired lately. I don’t know if it’s the weather, the fact that it’s winter in Wisconsin, or just too much to do, but we’ve both been exhausted. When Tim gets tired, his cognitive symptoms become more noticeable. He gets stuck on words more often and he has trouble finishing sentences sometimes. He forgets to write things down and then forgets to do those things, because he didn’t write them down. He gets very frustrated and crabby when this happens. If I am tired also, I can’t help much, and then we both end up crabby. Not fun at our house – time for a vacation!

Anyone who has MS knows that fatigue is the enemy, and it will make all your other symptoms flare. This is true for cognitive symptoms as well as physical ones. Extreme fatigue can make your brain feel like mush. It’s really important to get enough rest and keep your activity level within manageable limits so your symptoms stay under control.

Here are a few tips to help you:

- Alternate strenuous tasks with sedentary ones. For example, vacuum the living room, then sit and update the checkbook. Keep alternating heavy and light jobs throughout your day.

- Find different way to do heavy jobs. Slide those heavy boxes across the floor instead of picking them up and carrying them. Use long handled tools when cleaning. Sit down to prepare meals. There are lots of ways to adapt.

- Rest before you are tired. Taking short rest breaks between tasks will help you last longer and do more.

- When you feel like you are done, be done. Don’t try to push yourself past that fatigue point, or you won’t be getting out of bed the next day.

- Finally, if you are just too tired to function on a given day, take the day off. Do easy things that don’t require a lot of energy and try for your normal routine the next day.

Hopefully these simple tips will help you get through those tired days. As for Tim and I, well, I think we just need spring!