Brain Fitness Prevents Cognitive Deterioration in MS Patients

In addition to physical deterioration, one very common consequence of multiple sclerosis (MS) is brain damage, specifically in the form of brain atrophy that has marked impact on memory and learning abilities. In some patients, brain damage is documented early on in the course of the condition, while in others, it doesn’t manifest until much later. A recent study from the Kessler Foundation Research Center, led by James Sumowski, PhD, may have uncovered, in part, why that disparity exists.

The study’s conclusion was that people with MS who led mentally active lives were, essentially, protecting themselves from MS’s deteriorative affects. Study participants were in their mid 40s and had been diagnosed with MS for an average of 11 years. Researchers measured all sorts of cognitive skills, including memory, learning skills, and vocabulary retention. They then compared participants’ performance with brain scans measuring brain deterioration. In patients who did not lead particularly mentally active lives, the results were as might be expected: mild deterioration led to better scores, while greater deterioration led to poorer scores. However, in patients who led mentally active lives and had habits of engaging in mentally stimulating activities, the scores did not have such a range. All performed well on the memory and learning tests, and patients with greater brain atrophy did just as well as those with little atrophy. In fact, mentally active patients with significant brain atrophy actually outscored inactive patients with less atrophy.

Researchers say they aren’t ready to make official recommendations on the amount and type of activities that can reap this positive impact, but they do advise staying involved in stimulating activities to the greatest extent possible. They also not similarities between this study and studies concerning Alzheimer’s, which have also suggested that intellectual rigor can help to prevent future brain loss. This also means that people in the early stages of MS diagnosis can intentionally set habits now that will literally benefit their mental health in the future.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Nathan


    June 20th, 2010 at 1:21 PM

    I have an aunt that’s just been diagnosed with MS after many false starts. It’s taken two years to get to a doctor that made the correct diagnosis. Thanks for the information.

  • jackie


    June 20th, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    it is common knowledge that anything that is not used for long goes on deteriorating.and it is the same for human brain.but what may be inferred from this study is that it is more pronounced in people with multiple sclerosis and this can well be countered by making sure that such people solve puzzles regularly and have a lot of mental exercise.

  • Rosalee


    June 20th, 2010 at 8:48 PM

    I’m very glad to read about this research. I know a woman in her twenties that’s coping with MS and is very depressed about what her future might hold. I’ll be delighted to pass this on to her.

  • Stacy L

    Stacy L

    June 21st, 2010 at 4:23 AM

    I have a friend who was once a beautiful ballet dancer and the early onset of MS in her mid twenties has taken all of that away. What causes this cruel disease to strike so haphazardly and with no warning is part of what makes it so utterly debilitating. One day she was dancing on stage and the next she could not even find the way to get up out of bed. She has been on steroid treatments I think but that has ravaged her body as well. I hope that doctors are able to find some kind of cure for this soon.

  • bernie F.

    bernie F.

    June 21st, 2010 at 5:21 AM

    Its great to have something like this known because it sure is going to help a lot of people and also, mental fitness is something that each one of us needs to start incorporating in our daily lives…

    and if the research says that it can prevent the deterioration of the brain in patients of MS,maybe it can actually prevent the onset of MS itself in people that would otherwise have it…?!

  • William


    June 21st, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    I don’t understand why MS isn’t recognized for what it is first time around. I’ve read many times about misdiagnosis delaying the correct treatment while time was wasted on assuming it was something else. What is it about this condition that makes it so hard to spot?

  • Belle


    June 23rd, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    Keeping your mind agile has so many benefits. Every day we see reasons why not to wait until we’re old to think about incorporating mental exercise as well as physical ones. This is another of those reasons. Thanks for enlightening us.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on