Because of the critical role the brain plays in multiple sclerosis (MS), many experts are placing a heavy emphasis on what can be done to keep the brain as healthy as possible, for as long as possible. This new focus on brain health is part of a larger perspective called brain preservation, and it has both experts and people living with MS talking.
Brain preservation: A brain-first perspective of MS
Brain preservation focuses on 4 key aspects of the brain as they relate to MS, which can help preserve the brain and its function through healthy lifestyle choices.
Learn the 4 key areas of brain preservation
1. Know all you can about brain lesions in white and grey matter
Lesions in both kinds of brain tissue can cause MS symptoms. Grey matter lesions were recently identified as being closely associated with cognitive and physical changes related to MS. Cognitive changes caused by MS may include worsening of memory, difficulty concentrating, or trouble thinking of the right word. Be sure to ask your neurologist about lesions that occur in both areas.
2. See what research says about decreasing brain matter
As we age, we all lose brain matter (both white and grey) naturally. For people with MS, this decrease in brain matter (also called brain volume loss) can happen more quickly.
According to research, this decrease is a strong predictor of long-term physical disability and cognitive issues. Make sure that decreases in brain matter (or brain volume loss) is part of your next discussion with your neurologist.
3. Understand your brain’s neurological reserve
When brain lesions occur, the affected area of the brain may no longer function properly. However, other areas can step in and perform the tasks that part of the brain no longer can. This amazing ability to adapt is called “neurological reserve,” and it can keep you from experiencing MS symptoms early on in the disease.
- Neurological reserve can decrease as brain lesions occur
- Everyday lifestyle choices can help you maintain neurological reserve
- Don’t wait until you’re experiencing symptoms to make healthy changes that can help
4. Make lifestyle changes and manage chronic conditions
Making healthy changes to your lifestyle can help keep your brain healthy, too. A healthier brain can help maximize neurological reserve. Here are just a few things to consider:
- Maximize neurological reserve by keeping your brain active with things like reading, board games, and puzzles
- Process information faster through exercise. Higher levels of aerobic fitness are associated with faster information processing, as well as having more deep grey matter in the brain
- Improve the health of your brain by getting at least 7 hours of restful sleep a night
Also, it’s important to manage other chronic conditions you may have (in addition to MS)
If left unmanaged, chronic conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, depression, diabetes, and chronic lung disease) can actually lead to more relapses and a quicker progression of physical disability. Talk to your doctor to make sure you’re doing all you can.
Helping people with MS understand brain preservation—and ways to make healthy lifestyle changes—is part of a new initiative called the MS MindShift. Learn more and find a list of questions you can ask your doctor about MS and the brain at MSMindShift.com
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