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MS & memory loss – symptoms, treatment and more

About half of people with MS have some cognitive problems, including memory loss, often these problems are mild and don’t interrupt your daily life. Read on to find out more and techniques to help you live with memory loss.

Can MS cause memory loss?

Evidence suggests that memory problems associated with MS occur due to lesions in multiple areas of the brain breaking down the transmission of nerve impulses which are responsible for the ability to remember. 

If you think you may be experiencing other cognitive symptoms such as problem solving, following instructions or concentration, then please visit our dedicated MS cognitive symptoms page for information about how to manage these issues.

Signs of impaired thinking in MS

The clues that you are having difficulties with your memory are often subtle. You might not notice them until a friend, co-worker, or family member points them out. 

Find out how changing your lifestyle could change your MS symptoms [2 minute read]

Examples of memory loss include:

  • Struggling to find the right words to say

  • Find it hard to plan ahead or set priorities

  • Forget things you need to do

  • Have trouble concentrating 

  • Difficulty retaining information you have just learnt 

Memory loss can occur at any time, even when you may not be experiencing other physical MS symptoms. It is important to remember that MS does not usually affect your long-term memory or intelligence.

There are many types of memory, MS most commonly affects short term memory, including remembering recent events and remembering to do things. 

Cognitive MS symptoms will have different impacts for different people. It can be worrying if a symptom such as memory loss is not recognised as an MS symptom, people can often feel frightened about what is happening to them.

MS & memory loss treatment

Managing cognitive symptoms such as memory loss often involves finding coping strategies that work for you. 

Here are some tips for living with memory loss:

  • Assign a specific spot for items you lose often, such as keys or phone. 

  • Use checklists, journals and organizers to help remember what you need to do.

  • Try to keep to a set schedule.

  • Repeat and write down important information. 

It may be important to make some lifestyle changes as part of a coping strategy. For example it could help to keep life as simple as possible. This might mean a change in job or adaptations to your current role, such as working from home if possible. It can help to have a close circle of friends and family around you to assist with daily tasks.

It is also really important to minimize stress and anxiety due to its impact on MS. Ways you could do this includes: 

It can also be really helpful to boost your cognitive reserve, the mind’s resistance to damage of the brain. This is the brain’s ability to use its nerve pathways more efficiently or to find alternative pathways if the usual ones are damaged. 

Everyone’s cognitive reserve is different, due to many things such as experience and education. The stronger and more resilient your brain is the more you will be able to cope with MS damage. Research suggests that our set of lifetime experiences help build cognitive reserve and may account for differences in cognitive reserve between us. 

Keep your brain healthy and active as much as you can. It is important to keep up any hobbies you may have, find brain games, puzzles or crosswords that you enjoy and continue to read and write. Physical activity has also been shown to help reduce brain and cognitive decline. 

Unfortunately there are currently no drugs available to improve or treat cognitive problems and MS. There has been a small study looking into the effects of gingko biloba supplements in people with MS who showed some improvements in concentration and memory, but it didn’t provide enough evidence to show it has definite effect and further research is needed. 

View our Overcoming MS program

As mentioned above it is so important to maintain low stress and anxiety levels. Step four of the OMS 7 Step Program focuses on the importance of meditation due to its clinically proven effectiveness in reducing stress. Find more information here: 

MS can potentially affect your memory in direct and indirect ways. If you’ve noticed changes in your memory, it is best to speak with your MS team. They can help you identify the causes of your memory loss and develop strategies to manage it.