How to Stay Focused when You Have MS
Multiple sclerosis not only affects you physically, but it can also change your cognitive abilities. Around half of the people who are diagnosed with MS may struggle with remembering past events, paying attention or focusing on tasks, or planning future projects.MS can cause you to lose focus and result in cognitive decline and dysfunction. You can stay focused by getting checked out by your doctor, getting organized, performing mental exercises, learning coping skills to work around any cognitive changes, and making lifestyle choices like getting enough sleep and exercise.
Exercising Your Mind
Do puzzles.MS can affect the neurons in your brain, which can make your cognitive function and focus decline.You can work on your focus by exercising your mind. Completing different kinds of puzzles each day can help you with this. Try more challenging puzzles like Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
- Sudoku uses logic and math skills to complete the puzzle. A crossword puzzle uses memory recall, spelling, and critical thinking skills.
Try a memory exercise.Memory exercises can help improve cognitive function in people with MS. Talk to your doctor about appropriate mental exercises to help your cognitive function. You can complete memory exercises on your own every day.
- For example, each day you might look at a list of words to memorize. Then, try doing a few simple math problems one after another, and try to remember if each new problem resulted in a number that was greater or less than the previous number. After the math problems, try to type or write down the list of words again.Do this memory exercise with a new list of words and a new list of math problems each day.
- To work on visual memory, have another person put up to 10 objects around the room. Look at the objects, then leave the room. Wait a few minutes, and write down where the objects were in the room.
Engage in intellectually stimulating activity.Intellectually stimulating activities can encourage increased brain activity. Activities can include reading a book, especially challenging books like classic literature or nonfiction. You may also try having a stimulating conversation with someone.
- You can also try to go to museums, poetry readings, documentaries, or lectures.
Improving Cognitive Function
Get organized.One way to help you stay focused with MS is to get organized. Use a planner or a digital calendar to place all of your information, appointments, and reminders into. Put anything you need to remember and be aware of in your calendar.
- An organizer keeps everything in one place. This means you will always know where the information you need is. If you try to use notes or pieces of paper, they may get lost.
Leave things in the same place.If you are having trouble remembering things, set up certain places where things go so you can find them later. This helps you avoid losing things or getting upset when you can’t find something. Make an effort to put things back in the same places or label shelves or spots where things go to remind yourself.
- For example, you may want to put your keys in the same place, like on a hook or in a bowl by the door. Leave your wallet or purse on your nightstand. Scissors should go in the same drawer, and your cell phone may always be on the coffee table.
- Make a list of where you place all your things. You can carry this list with you or place the list on the refrigerator.
- Try using an MS app on your phone to help get you organized and help you remember certain important things. One helpful app is MS self Multiple Sclerosis app, which helps you set reminders, make lists, and write important things in a journal. You can also try organization apps, such as Planner Pro-Personal Organizer, Google Keep, or To-do List, Task List.
Work on focusing on one thing at a time.One way to stay focused is to stop multitasking and spreading your concentration thin. By focusing on one thing at a time, you ensure that you are giving your full focus to whatever task you are doing. This can help your recall, improve your concentration, and help you stay focused.
- When you are doing something, like watching television, talking to someone, or reading, focus only on that activity instead of trying to do multiple things at once.
- For example, while watching television, try to focus on the character names and the plot. Focus on one thing while doing everyday tasks, like what someone is saying during a conversation or following a recipe when you cook.
- Try to block all distractions, such as noise or other conversations. Part of working on your focus is learning how to not let distractions get to you. For example, when you are talking to someone, keep your eyes on their face and listen only to their words. When you are reading, focus only on the words on the page while ignoring everything else.
Perform difficult tasks when you’re at your best.To help prevent the loss of focus, do difficult tasks or cognitive functions during the best times of day for you. This may be in the morning or the afternoon. Doing difficult tasks that require your full focus or mental ability at your best times ensures that you are putting your full concentration into it.
- For example, if you have to go over your monthly finances, you may choose to do it after breakfast when you are at your optimal functioning for the day.
Give yourself time.It may take you longer to learn new things, do things, or remember things than it used to. Getting frustrated because you can’t do or remember something will only add to your problems focusing. Instead, stay calm and give yourself plenty of time to accomplish the task.
- You may have to practice certain skills to get used to them again.
Take breaks.Another way to stay focused when you have MS is to pause and mentally rest while you are doing tasks. This helps reduce the amount of cognitive fatigue that you might experience. When you start losing focus or feeling mentally foggy, take a short break to give your mind time to refocus.
- Try five to 15 minutes of mental rest or another activity before tackling the difficult task again.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Ask for help from family and friends.If you find that you are having cognitive problems, like forgetting things or having trouble thinking, you may want to talk to your family or friends. Ask them to help you stay focused and remember things, or to remind you or prompt you when you need it.
- You may not be able to stay focused on your own. Your family or friends may be able to help you come up with a schedule, reminders on your phone, or other ways to help you manage any cognitive difficulties.
- You might say to your family, “I am having some cognitive problems because of my MS. I would really appreciate you helping me remember things.”
Stay cool.Getting overheated can cause fatigue if you have MS. Fatigue can lead to loss of focus.To help with this, stay cool. Wear loose-fitting clothing that breathes, keep your house at a cool temperature, and stay out of the heat as much as possible.
- You can be triggered by any heat-related activity, such as hot baths or even eating hot meals.
Get enough sleep.Proper rest is very important when you have MS. Adopt a regular sleep schedule where you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Even on days off or weekends, try to sleep only an hour later. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
- Since muscle spasms may interfere with your sleep, you may want to talk to your doctor about treating these symptoms so you can sleep better.
- Go to the bathroom before bed. Try to limit the amount you drink before bed to limit your trips to the bathroom at night.
Exercise.Exercise is important for managing physical MS symptoms, but it may also help with cognitive symptoms.Add at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine to help you stay focused. This exercise can be walking, riding a stationary bicycle, yoga, tai chi, swimming, or hiking.
- Talk to your doctor about what exercise is appropriate for your MS symptoms and fitness level.
- Twenty minutes of light aerobic exercise was found to help improve cognitive function in a recent study.
Seeking Medical Help
Get tested by a neuropsychologist.If you think your focus and cognitive skills are getting worse with your MS, ask your doctor for a reference to a neuropsychologist. This specialist will assess your cognitive function. They may be able to pinpoint the causes of the cognitive decline and come up with a treatment.
- During a cognitive assessment, the neuropsychologist will test your memory. They may discuss any memory problems with you or someone who spends a lot of time with you. You might be asked about how often you forget about events or appointments, or how often you lose something. They will listen to you as you talk to evaluate what you say and how you say it. You may be asked questions about common knowledge, like months of the year, or asked to repeat something you were told a few minutes ago.
- For example, they may ask you, "Can you name the months of the year?", "What is today's date?", or "What is the capital of this state?"
- Cognitive assessment takes hours to complete. It is also an expensive procedure, so discuss it with your doctor and family before undergoing the procedure. Your doctor may be able to do a brief cognitive screen first to determine if it is necessary.
Consider cognitive rehabilitation.Cognitive rehabilitation is a procedure that doctors are starting to use on MS patients who undergo cognitive changes. Cognitive rehabilitation is done by neuropsychologists, occupational therapists, or speech and language pathologists. It aims to help memory loss, decreased learning ability, and negative cognitive changes.
- Cognitive rehabilitation is done for multiple weeks or months. You go to one or more one-hour sessions per week. During a session, you will go through exercises to improve memory and learn how to cope with cognitive changes.
- Results for cognitive rehabilitation are mixed. However, studies showed that the treatment helped relieve fatigue in MS patients. This may help with cognitive function and focus.
Treat depression symptoms.Many people with MS suffer from depression. Depression can interfere with your focus and negatively impact your cognitive function. Depression slows down your thinking processes. If your symptoms are joined by feelings of hopelessness, sadness, emptiness, difficulty sleeping, or other signs of depression, seek treatment from a mental health professional.
- Talk to your doctor about whether or not you have depression if you have never been diagnosed before.
Video: How To Stay Focused
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