Cognitive symptoms

Cognition is a set of high-level brain functions, like the ability to process and remember information and make decisions. Cognitive changes of MS can be responsible for some of the earliest symptoms. Research suggests that cognitive problems are related to MS lesions in your brain and also an overall reduction in brain size (brain atrophy) that is caused by MS. Between 40 and 70% of people with MS will experience cognitive effects, and these changes can be subtle. It’s easy to mistakenly assume they are just changes associated with normal aging, when in reality they may be related to your MS. Cognitive dysfunction can occur with any disease course, but is slightly more likely in progressive MS, so it’s important to report cognitive symptoms to your doctor.

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Memory issues, and especially short-term memory problems (remembering recent events), are the most common cognitive symptom of MS. This can involve trouble acquiring, retaining and retrieving new information.

Memory issues associated with MS:

  1. Trouble learning new things
  2. Less ability to remember information that has been learned and stored before
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Concentration / Attention

Cognitive changes in MS can also affect your ability to concentrate or pay attention, particularly when it comes to dividing your attention between more than one thing.

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Information processing speed

MS can make you slower at processing information. Processing means using your memory and verbal ability to digest and respond to information. You may feel like your brain is working more slowly.

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When we solve problems we use many functions, like analyzing a problem, identifying the parts of the problem, seeing which parts need adjusting, planning a series of steps to get to the solution and putting the pieces together to act on the information. MS can make this harder.

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Visual-spatial ability

Visual-spatial ability is the ability to recognize objects accurately and draw or assemble things. We use these abilities in many ways in everyday life, like driving, putting something down on a table, or packing a suitcase. MS can affect your ability to do these things smoothly.

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Speech/Verbal fluency

Verbal skills help us find the right words without trying too hard. MS can cause trouble finding words, known as the “tip-of-the-tongue” phenomena, where you feel like a word is close, but you can’t quite remember it. In addition to cognitive changes affecting your verbal fluency, MS can also affect the pace of your speaking or the movement of your tongue, lips, cheeks and mouth to form words.

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