How can cognitive function changes be treated?

The first step in treating cognitive function changes is to consult a doctor. The doctor will refer the person to a trained health care professional who will evaluate all areas of cognitive function using a group of tests. Once they find out which areas have been affected and how severe the changes are, treatment and coping strategies can be recommended. The doctor and other health professionals will also try to ensure that cognitive function changes are not due to other potential causes such as aging, other medical conditions, or medications.

Treatment varies according to which areas of cognitive function are affected and the severity of the changes. If the problem is mild, strategies such as using lists, electronic reminders, sticky notes, day planners, and alarms can help. For more severe problems, professional assistance or care may be needed, especially if the person is no longer able to function on their own.

A technique called cognitive rehabilitation uses special exercises to train people to improve their cognitive function and compensatory techniques to help compensate for the function that has already been lost. Studies of rehabilitation have shown mixed results. Compensatory techniques seem to have the best results. Support from family, friends, and work colleagues can also help the person cope with cognitive function changes. Other health professionals such as speech language pathologists and occupational therapists can play a role in supporting people with cognitive function changes.

Medications may also be helpful. A number of options are being studied. Clinical studies have shown promising results for one type of interferon beta-1a, which is used to treat other MS symptoms, and for donepezil, which is used to treat Alzheimer's disease. Since some disease-modifying medications have been shown to reduce relapse rate and slow the progression of disability, it is possible that they may also be helpful for cognitive changes caused by MS. Talk to your health care professional and ask whether your MS medication can also help with cognitive function changes.

If you are concerned about the risk of physical disability and cognitive impairment, talk to your doctor. You can work together to find ways to live with MS.

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