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Cognitive Health

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Engaging in activities that are mentally stimulating and challenging is essential to a person’s well-being throughout life. Mental stimulation contributes to personal growth, enhances creative thinking and problem-solving abilities, and broadens a person’s horizons with new learning. Like exercise for the body, mental stimulation helps the mind stay active, alert and engaged even in the face of aging or changes caused by MS.

The term “cognition” refers to all of the high-level processes carried out by the human brain. Similar to the processing done by a computer, the human brain takes in information, stores it, processes it and generates output based on that information. MS is known to cause problems with one or more of these cognitive functions in many people. In fact, 65% of people with MS will experience some changes in cognitive functioning, most commonly related to speed of information processing, memory and attention. It is important to report changes of this kind to your healthcare provider so that you can get a proper assessment of the problem as well as strategies to help you manage it. With or without these cognitive changes, however, mentally stimulating and challenging activities to promote cognitive health are important for everyone.
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The role of cognitive reserve

The concept of cognitive reserve helps to explain why individuals with the same degree of brain changes due to aging or a neurological disease like MS may function very differently cognitively. Research has shown that a lifetime of intellectual enrichment from education and stimulating work and leisure activities helps to lessen or slow the impact of disease- or aging-related changes in the brain. In other words, people with cognitive reserve have more protection from cognitive decline. Cognitive reserve is like savings in the bank.

Strategies for enhancing cognitive reserve

Although it isn’t possible to go back and re-live one’s life in search of cognitive reserve, it is possible at any age to add to cognitive reserve. Finding activities that engage your mind, pique your curiosity, spark your creativity, stimulate your thinking and challenge your problem-solving skills can all enhance your cognitive reserve and support your cognitive health. In addition to work-related activities, hobbies like reading, creative writing, journaling, handiwork, board or card games, drawing or painting, cross word or jigsaw puzzles, game shows, all increase your cognitive reserve and contribute to your cognitive well-being. Engaging with others – in a support group, book club, fellowship meetings at your church or synagogue, or through advocacy activities – is another way to stay cognitively active and enjoy the companionship of others at the same time. Whatever you do to exercise your mind can help reduce the impact of MS-related cognitive changes that may occur. And optimizing your cognitive health contributes to all other areas of your wellness.

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