MS and the Mind
MS-related cognitive problems can be hard to detect and even harder to admit. Denial can be a real devil for people with MS, their friends, family members, and their employers.
“Oh my gosh, I lost my car keys!” Maureen panicked. Then she realized that she’d given them to her friend who was presently driving her car. Maureen was sitting in the passenger seat. Forgetting things happens a lot to her. Everybody forgets things, she thought. She did not believe she had cognitive problems.
Maureen was an elementary school teacher before she was diagnosed with MS in 1988. She left teaching because she was “tired of writing lesson plans and tired of trying to handle 30 students.” She went to work doing light filing for a law firm. Eventually, she had to resign. She said the reasons were a few falls, the fatigue of a 9-to-5 routine, and the long distances she needed to walk. “I guess my physical limitations probably affected my work quality,” she said.
But her boss at the law firm saw it differently: “Maureen’s cognitive ability has gradually decreased in the past 2 years. Her short-term memory is the most obvious area. When giving her instructions ... each word has to be written out in order for her to complete the job. She does not have the ability to recall details of a conversation that just took place. This has affected not only her work tasks but daily personal tasks as well.”
Maureen’s boss helped her file her Social Security disability claims and find housing, and got her started on a regimen for completing financial tasks like paying bills. Even so, she did not believe she had cognitive problems—until she read an evaluation of her work at the law firm.
Why is it hard to admit to having cognitive problems?
Research indicates that cognitive impairment may be the most significant factor in the high unemployment rate among people with MS. Even more than problems with walking or fatigue, changes in intellectual functioning can result in premature departure from the workforce.
Is there hope?
How do I know I need help?
Dr. Kalb always encourages people not to panic: “From what we know, cognitive problems tend to progress very slowly, and are relatively manageable with remedial interventions. It is important to prepare for the future with habits and techniques that can be learned in rehabilitation,” she said.
Life goes on
“Don’t forget the resources the National MS Society has to offer!” she reminded us. To people who think they have some cognitive problems, Maureen said: “See your neurologist and talk honestly. Give all the details.”
For additional information
Karen J. Zielinski is a Franciscan sister and heads the communications office for the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio. This is her 25th year living with MS. Sister Karen writes 2 different monthly advice columns and serves the Society as an active volunteer.
|Last updated May 2006|