Living Like You | MS and its cognitive symptoms

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Have you experienced ‘brain fog’ or ‘cog fog’ – forgetting where you put the keys, failing to find the right word, or struggling to concentrate? If so, you are not alone as more than half of all people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) experience some form of problem with their cognition.1

Cognitive function is a medical way of describing how we think, solve problems, and remember things – all of which are linked to our brain. The most common cognitive symptoms of MS include:2,3

· Memory – There are different types of memory and MS most commonly affects memory related to recalling recent events and forgetting to do things.

· Concentration and attention – Some find it hard to concentrate for longer periods or to multitask. 

· Planning and problem solving – People with MS report struggling to make plans; they may know what they want to do but find it difficult to know where to start.

· Word-finding difficulty – Experiencing a struggle in finding the right word is common in MS, often explained as feeling the word is on the tip of your tongue. 

· Information processing – Some find it hard to follow complex instructions, especially if they are given rapidly.

· Visuospatial functions – This refers to the way you relate to visual information, for example, judging the speed of a car, and may be worse for people with MS.

Cognitive symptoms can be distressing to experience for many reasons and are one of the major causes for people with MS retiring early,1 but there are tools and strategies that you can put in place to help if you are experiencing cog fog. Often, it’s a case of finding what works for you - some options include establishing a fixed routine, using diaries and smartphones for reminders, breaking down tasks into more manageable chunks and avoiding tasks while you are tired or stressed, where possible. You can find plenty more helpful tips here.

Tracking Cognitive Symptoms

It can be easy to not recognize cognitive symptoms as part of your MS, as they can be relatively mild, can fluctuate day-by-day, and can be linked to other causes, such as stress, tiredness and generally getting older. But making the distinction is important, as it can help you to manage the day-to-day impact of the symptoms and is an important indicator of your disease and how best it should be managed. Consider keeping track of any cognitive symptoms – whether or not you think they are MS-related – as well as your symptoms overall to help manage this with your doctor.

The YourMS Questionnaire is a tool that can help you to keep track of symptoms, any changes you experience and how MS is impacting your life, as well as supporting you and your doctor in managing your condition. Filling in the questionnaire regularly and bringing it to your doctor’s appointments may help you to stay on top of any changes in your disease and act as a reminder of your symptoms to raise during your appointments.  

Check out the advice from our MS experts on understanding cognitive symptoms here.

1 National MS Society. Cognitive Changes. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.

2 MS Trust. Thinking and memory problems. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.

3 MS Society. Cognitive problems in MS. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.

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