Demystifying the myths

Memory problems among people with MS are not simply the result of feeling down or tired. They are very real and distinctly different from other medical conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, mood disorders or loss of intellect.

  • Not Alzheimer's disease: An estimated 500,000 Canadians over the age of 65 suffer from Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. In Alzheimer's disease, different areas of the brain are damaged and killed. While some of the signs of MS and Alzheimer's disease appear similar, people are affected very differently. People with Alzheimer's disease usually have more severe cognitive problems (especially with speaking) and cannot remember things from moment to moment. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, memory aids such as notebooks and electronic gadgets may not be as helpful. On the other hand, people with MS have difficulties recalling information, and memory aids act as useful reminders.
  • Not mood disorders: Memory problems and cognitive difficulties are different from emotional problems and mood disorders. Cognition refers to specific thinking processes (i.e., how the brain stores, organizes, and recalls information). While a person with MS may also have a mood disorder such as depression, these emotional problems may actually be a psychological response to having a chronic illness or the result of specific MS lesions in certain parts of the brain. People with mood disorders should talk to their doctor about treatment options. Memory problems may make mood disorders worse, but it is possible to have cognitive difficulties without having a mood disorder.

People with MS who are very worried about their symptoms can talk to their doctor or nurse about a neuropsychological assessment, which is a group of tests designed to pinpoint problem areas and come up with solutions.

If the risk of physical and cognitive disability is weighing on your mind, talk to your doctor about it. There are many options available that can help you live better with MS.

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