Knowledge is power
In February we hosted a live stream event featuring a panel of leading multiple sclerosis experts discussing the physical and cognitive impact of MS, and why it is so important to have open and honest conversations with your doctor.
The expert panel included a neurologist, a neuropsychologist, a dietician, a physiotherapist and two facilitators living with MS, Joan and Jana. With their personal experience and expertise in MS, Joan and Jana led the discussion and had the experts hone in on the most relevant advice on what people living with MS can do to better manage their symptoms on a day-to-day basis.
Thank you to all those who tuned in or participated! For those of you who didn’t have a chance to join us, here are some of those pearls of wisdom, from the experts.
Olivier Heinzlef, MS Neurologist & President of the French MS Society:
MS can affect memory: We now know that MS can impair several types of memory; long term memory, which impacts our ability to learn and recall new information; working memory – which is our ability to retain and manipulate information for a short amount of time, like when we follow a recipe; and executive function, which impacts our ability to problem solve and plan complex tasks.
Brain workouts can strengthen the mind: Keeping your brain as active and stimulated as possible can make it more resistant to cognitive changes, by building what scientists call your “cognitive reserve”. So do the crossword, read books, go to the theatre, hit the cinema – anything that keeps your brain active and engaged!
Your smart phone could help: Brain training apps are another way to stimulate your brain and build your cognitive reserve. And here’s the really good news – research shows if you improve just one aspect of your cognitive function (for example, your memory), it will have a positive impact on all your other cognitive abilities, too.
Dimple Thakrar – Dietician Working in Neuro-Rehabilitation & Director of www.freshnutrition.org
You really can eat to beat fatigue: Eating regular meals containing carbohydrates such as brown bread, rice, pasta, cereals and potatoes will help provide a steady release of energy. Plan ahead and cook meals while you have the energy, so these are on hand when hunger strikes.
Gluten is not the enemy: There isn’t enough evidence to suggest that excluding this protein found in wheat, barley and rye could be beneficial for people with MS. Apart from anything, it could mean you could miss out on important nutrients, so speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.
Supplements can sometimes help: Low levels of vitamin D have been linked with MS but only people who are at risk for deficiency (over 65s, pregnant women, people who are housebound, shift-workers or women who receive no sunlight due to religious attire) need take a supplement. When it comes to vitamin B12 and omega 3s, two other hot topics, it’s always best to get these from your diet.
Yolando Higueras – Neuropsychologist:
Brain changes happen to us all: Brain atrophy is a natural process that happens to everyone, though it does occur slightly faster in MS. The first symptom people usually notice is that their mind feels a bit slower than usual and they need more time to do things like finish the crossword.
Multi-tasking can be an issue: Memory is the problem most patients complain about. However, the majority of the time it’s actually concentration that’s the problem – people can struggle to focus which means the information isn’t processed in the first place. Focus on one task, and take all the time you need.
Being honest with your doctor is vital: Cognitive symptoms can be scary. Feeling forgetful? Scatty? Tired? Depressed? It could be your MS, or it could be lack of sleep or stress. The problem is you’ll never know unless you speak to your doctor about what’s really on your mind.
Susan Coote – Physiotherapist & Lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of Limerick, Ireland:
Physiotherapy can make a difference: Particularly when it comes to improving muscle strength and balance, and easing stiffness in muscles. The ultimate aim is to enable people with MS to be as active as they can, to lead the life they want.
Exercise is the best medicine: The key is to start gradually, with a short walk or even just a few exercises in your chair, and then build more and more exercise into your day. If you don’t have any mobility issues you could try a yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi class – all are beneficial for core stability and balance. If mobility is an issue then you should definitely see a physiotherapist who will tailor an exercise regime to your needs.
Workouts could boost your mind: If you’re still not convinced about the benefits of exercise, there’s plenty of evidence that exercise can even benefit the brain – so it’s a definite win win!
Look out for more content on LLY from our experts who will address some of the questions we didn’t get to answer during our live stream and Twitter chat. Remember if you have any questions related to the above or are ever in doubt about how to best manage a specific symptom(s), go have an open and honest conversation with your neurologist, a neuropsychologist, a dietician or a physiotherapist who will all be able to help you address some of your concerns.
Please note that all the advice given in this article is based on the personal experience of the panellists and should not be taken as facts. If in doubt please consult your Dr.