Q: A friend of mine was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis many years ago. She has had excellent medical care and therapy since she was first diagnosed. Recently we have both become aware she is becoming forgetful but not what I would refer to as confused. She forgets when we have made plans to go somewhere or calls me when we just discussed the same subject the previous day. Is this typical with this diagnosis and are there ways to help her?
A: There are numerous symptoms associated with this chronic condition, many of which she may already have experienced. About 50% of individuals with MS over time will display mild cognitive decline. In only a small percentage of patients does this become a severe issue. If she hasn’t already discussed this new symptom with her specialist encourage her to do so. The physician may recommend additional screening and suggest cognitive rehabilitation or add new medications to her treatment plan.
There are some simple steps the two of you may take in the meanwhile which might prove helpful. Using the modes of learning – see it, say it, hear it, write it – may show some improvement. When you are making plans with her, whether it is in person or over the phone, ask her to repeat back to you what has been decided. Clarify the information if she appears unclear. Using a large desk or wall calendar to keep track of all appointments and social activities is also a good tool. Encourage her to go and write down the information immediately while you are with her or speaking on the phone. This is a way of not only keeping track of planned events but can serve as a daily visual reminder of what is coming. Send her email or text messages detailing what you discussed and what has been planned. The repetitive nature of these tasks hopefully will make things easier. This same approach could be used by other family members or friends.
If she does not already do so encourage her to attend a support group for patients with MS. She may find out what is working for other individuals who may have the same issue with focus and memory.
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