Topic / Other MS News

Intellectual enrichment protects against loss of higher mental functions in PwMS

US and Italian researchers have collaborated to show that enriching intellectual activities protect against the loss of cognitive function that PwMS can get due to illness progression

It is good to see research coming through now about how the lifestyles of PwMS can be modified to improve their health outcomes. This paper, published in Neurology, reports on a collaboration between researchers from New Jersey and Milan, involving 62 PwMS (41 relapsing-remitting and 21 secondary progressive). All apart from five were on MS medications.

The researchers investigated the decline in higher mental function that may accompany progressive MS disease activity, usually related to shrinkage of the brain over time with increasing numbers of lesions.

In this case, they investigated what they called cognitive leisure activities, that is intellectually enriching leisure activities, such as playing a musical instrument, keeping a diary or blog, having hobbies, maintaining a website, etc, and their effect on this cognitive decline.

While they found that brain shrinkage did predict the decline in higher mental function, they showed that those with the highest levels of intellectually enriching leisure activities were protected against this.

This is important information for PwMS. The OMS approach is to use whatever lifestyle changes we can to improve our chances of continuing good health.

While typically that is seen as involving diet, exercise, sun exposure, and so on, this research emphasises the importance of keeping involved in fulfilling activities that are stimulating and require intellectual effort.

This is doubly important in MS, because depression is so common with this illness, and once people are depressed, they are much less likely to continue with these intellectually enriching daily activities.

Being pro-active about avoiding depression, with diet, omega 3 supplements, exercise and meditation helps maintain the positive attitude to keep doing intellectually enriching actitivite and hobbies. Similarly, doing these activities helps avoid depression.

So this is a highly beneficial positive feedback loop that feeds on itself to keep PwMS optimistic, positive and cognitively sharp. For those not keeping a diary, which we strongly recommend at OMS, this might be a good time to consider starting one.

Other activities like art, music, reading, etc also seem to have the same beneficial effects. The authors conclude the Abstract of the paper by saying: "Lifestyle choices protect against cognitive impairment independently of genetic factors outside of one’s control." Hear hear!

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