If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), there is a high chance that you will experience cognitive changes due to the condition. According to the National MS Society, approximately half of all people with MS will develop problems with cognition, a range of high-level brain functions, including “the ability to learn and remember information; organize, plan and problem-solve; focus, maintain and shift attention as necessary; understand and use language; accurately perceive the environment; and perform calculations.” Whether or not you’re struggling with memory issues now, exercising your brain is an important part of staying healthy with MS. Brain (or memory) games can be beneficial to people with MS because research has shown that mind-stimulating tasks can benefits those with cognitive problems, by improving mental speed and brain health. Many researchers believe that following a brain healthy lifestyle and performing targeted brain exercises can also increase your brain’s cognitive reserve (everydayhealth.com). Here are five memory exercises for those struggling with MS.
Brain Training Apps
You can boost your brain by downloading a number of applications that will help with memory loss as a result of aging, along with health conditions like MS. The Lumosity app, from the popular brain-training website Lumosity.com, is a great way to challenge the brain with a number of personalized activities and games. The website and app were developed by a neuroscientist and offer a game options that help improve your memory, attention and processing speed. Cognifit is another popular app and online service that helps improve memory and cognitive function. Both the website and the app focus on the users individual needs, and adjusts the difficulty level to match those needs as well. Difficulties with attention and processing speed can interfere with new learning, so challenging yourself with online or Smartphone games can really help.
You don’t have to go high-tech to challenge your brain. Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to challenge your brain. When you put a jigsaw puzzle together, you’re exercising both sides of the brain – the left that thinks logically and follows sequence, and the right brain that is creative, emotional and intuitive. The MacArthur study found that keeping the mind active with mind-flexing activities like jigsaw puzzles can lead to a longer life expectancy, a better quality of life, and reduce the chances of developing certain types of mental illness, including memory loss. Depending on the amount of pieces, jigsaw puzzles can take a few days, weeks or months. You can exercise you brain by using a timer and seeing how fast it takes you to complete the task. This addresses your processing speed. Take note in a journal how long it takes you to complete each puzzle to the next, and challenge yourself to beat your previous score.
Sequencing games like dominoes, solitaire and Sudoku which involve a wide variety of ordering and sequencing numbers are great brain challenging games that help to combat problems with cognition. On top of being great for working out problem solving skills, they also help with reasoning. Similar to tracking processing speed with jigsaw puzzles, you can also keep track of progress by keeping a log of your scores and the amount of time it took to play on each game and monitor that progress over time.
Exercise is essential to help manage symptoms of MS. According to Dr. Karen Li, head of Concordia University’s laboratory for adult development and cognitive aging, bolstering your cardiovascular fitness and blood circulation nourishes your brain with the nutrients and oxygen it needs to perform optimally. On top of offering brain fuel, aerobic exercises help the brain work more efficiently. “Some brain regions and functions seem to benefit more than others,” Li said in an interview with Time. She explained that the frontal lobe specifically is responsible for high-level skills related to complex processes like multitasking. “That tells us aerobic exercise helps the brain work more efficiently,” Li said. A physical therapist is essential in helping you evaluate the exercise program that is best for you. There are also online resources like the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) that recommend exercises to help with balance, strength, coordination, and weight management for people living with MS (everydayhealth.com). Swimming and water aerobics are at the top of their list, and can be adapted to any degree of MS, from mild to severe, according to Amy Rauworth, MS, a registered clinical exercise physiologist in Birmingham, Alabama, and associate director of NCHPAD.
Word scrambles are a great way to keep your brain on point and boost cognitive recognition. Research has shown that memory is improved when you are forced to remember the spelling of words. You can give yourself an even greater challenge by unscrambling longer words. There are a number of sites online and apps that allow you to descramble jumbled words before time runs out.