“They are able who think they are able.” ~ Virgil
Sometimes that seems to be a phrase I say way too often.
Now – I consider myself very lucky in my MS – because, while I have some serious symptoms such as seizures, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue, I am still quite physcally able. That said, I do have cognitive issues as a result of MS that affect considerably how I live, adapt, work. For me (and many MS’ers) – MS manifests iteself in a way that is mostly invisible to the every day eye looking in from outside.
In MS, certain functions are more likely to be affected than others:
- Memory (acquiring, retaining, and retrieving new information)
- Attention and concentration (particularly divided attention)
- Information processing (dealing with information gathered by the five senses)
- Executive functions (planning and prioritizing)
- Visuospatial functions (visual perception and constructional abilities)
- Verbal fluency (word-finding)
Certain functions are likely to remain intact:
- General intellect
- Long-term (remote) memory
- Conversational skill
- Reading comprehension
I see the top list and find myself checking off each symptom on the list. (Check. Check. Check….Erg.) Then I get to the second part and think “Thank gawd – I still may have some basic marbles left!”
I myself am always re-evaluating, re-discovering, and re-analysing my own cognitive issues. I say “re” because short-term memory is an issue…so I often re-do things and re-discover what I knew before. Add in menopausal mayhem, middle-aging memory slumps, and multi-tasking mash-ups…and, well – you get the picture. And is there any real point to trying to figure out if it is due to the proverbial MS Chicken or menopausal Egg? Really, MS may have come first…but at this point, I think the “cause” edges may be getting increasingly blurry! (I think of the information processing issue: yes, I do definitely deal with MS repercssions of that…but as I age, I think menopausal fall-out happens too! Hormones strike again!) I just have more trouble, well, simply thinking.
Most recently, one of the things that I am finding more challenging than I expected was the challenge of associating figures to counts in the synchronized swimming world. I have lived with the physical and cognitive repercussions from full-on grand mal seizures in the past (ie. severe concussion and associated memory loss for weeks, cracked ribs, wicked bruising, etc) and the on-going up and down cognitive levels associated with my MS (i.e. inabiity to do basic math or remember what I am talking about mid-sentence on one day, then “geniosity” levels the next day). But I figured that simply counting to eight musically and associating routine elements would not be too problematic. Ha.
What is happening is that physically, while synchro swimming is definitely a challenge, I am able to master most elements. The biggest challenge is happening mentally – because of cognitive issues around numbers and short-term memory issues. Basically – all the symptoms from the top list is happening – blatantly and obviously. In synchro, while developing a routine there is a lot of trial and error: “Let’s try this; let’s see if this works”. This means that the need for short-term memory becomes critical. And MS can make this very difficult.
As an example – on a recent practice, we were developing another segment of the routine. Then we did a full run through. I did the entire routine just fine until we got the the newly developed part – then I totally blanked! ACK! Now, the more I practice, more and more of the routine sticks in my head. But the most recent sections always lag behind at least 1-2 weeks, memory-wise. This can be a huge frustration – not only for me, but for the people around me (especially if they do not understand why I am havng trouble remembering things). The phrase “Huh? What?” is something that I find myself saying much too often during practice!
But while it can be frustrating and challenging to push again cognitive issues – I am doing it. Do I need to adapt? Yup. In synchro, it means that I need to do more repetition than the rest of the team. I need to repeat more things more often. I need to write things down more.
In the rest of my life, I need to take more time to fully be sure I understand. In speaking – I need cue cards because I have much more difficulty “winging it” than before. I need more and more lists for everyday things like shopping and regular daily tasks. I need frequent reminders – and I use more and more tools to do exactly that.
I seek out whatever tool and trick that I can to help with whatever new cognitive issue that pops up. And I adapt every day – because every day changes.
Um…Where was I going with this again…?
“The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment to moment.” -Pema Chodron
Related articles and links
- Cognitive Dysfunction in MS: New Insights and Clinical Management (sys-con.com)
- Study: Well-targeted brain training videogame can lead to real-life benefits (sharpbrains.com)
- “Push through! Push through! You can do it.” (msmeans.wordpress.com)
- Try, Try, Try. Period. (msmeans.wordpress.com)
- The Mental Fog of MS (70four70.wordpress.com)
- MS, Cognition and Yoga: What I Learned (clearreflectionyoga.com)