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 GoodTherapy.org.
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