Discussing mental health is always likely to be an emotive subject for a blog post. But, for those of us with multiple sclerosis or any other autoimmune disease it is likely that cognition deterioration will be a real issue. Brain fog is not just an annoyance, it is a genuine result of cognitive decline.
My recent post on brain health has been very popular, so this seems to be a suitable subject for curation at this time.
Cognitive loss is recognised by many leading MS societies, including the MS Society UK.
Brain Fog a Neurological Impairment
If you, like me, have multiple sclerosis or, like my step-sister, have fibromyalgia then you will be only too familiar with brain-fog or fibro-fog.
The brain is a complex organ that controls almost every function of your body. If we think of the body as a motor car, then the brain is the engine.
An autoimmune disease, like multiple sclerosis causes inflammation in your brain. This stops the correct sending of signals across the neural pathways, giving rise to the plethora of symptoms associated with this debilitating disease.
The optic nerve is a part of the Central Nervous System (CNS) and can be compromised by inflammation in the cranial cavity. This can cause a number of visual exacerbations impairing your eyesight.
Like a car, your body needs fuel, and it needs the right fuel. To fuel your body, you are actually fuelling your mitochondria. What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are the cell organelles critical to good, healthy life. And feeding your mitochondria well is crucial in managing your chronic illness.
But, this article is about cognition or thinking ability. And as previously mentioned, the brain is a complex organ. And complex machinery, like the car, needs regular maintenance.
Fitness, Nutrition and Mind brings together the 3 key elements of maintenance for your brain and optimal health of your body.
I was motivated to write this post for a number of cognition related reasons not least because I am looking to build my email list. It has been suggested that curating recent popular posts can be a way to engage with like-minded audience members.
It has been further suggested that providing content upgrades is a way to build you email list. I will be honest, when I first started reading about building email lists, I hadn’t the first idea of what a content upgrade was. More on this later.
Not that growing my email list is necessarily a function of cognitive ability. But, putting all the ducks in a row; getting all of the email sequences prepared along with any supporting web pages is a major organisational challenge.
This is a considerable undertaking for a full-time blogger with full mental faculties. It is an enormous mountain to climb for a part-time blogger with an MS-addled brain.
Hopefully, by the time I publish this post, I will have organised my email list and you will be able to sign up to take part in the chronic illness community I hope to build.
Cognitive Decline in Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia or other Chronic Illnesses
Autoimmune diseases take many forms, some more serious than others. Indeed, some forms of autoimmune disease can be dreadful and life-threatening.
The immune system is an immensely powerful defence mechanism for your body, protecting against a multitude of harmful bacteria and other foreign bodies.
But, when your immune system fails to operate correctly, when it targets your own body tissues as if they were foreign bodies, you will get very ill.
In the case of multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia the immune system is targeting your neurological system, central nervous system or CNS. This is, effectively your brain.
How do you mitigate against this Cognition decline?
The theory is simple; the practise, is a little harder. You need to exercise your grey cells.
Your autoimmune disease is damaging your brain. However, the brain is a very elastic organ, meaning it can repair itself very effectively under the right circumstances.
However, time is precious and neural damage is permanent. But, you have lots of neurological reserve. This means you can recruit new neurons to adopt the function of damaged neurons. Think about it – literally think about it. It brings a whole new meaning to “The Power of Positive Thinking”.
Dust off your thinking, rediscover your library, start learning.
“Wait a minute” you say, “I left school a long time ago, and I am finished with learning”. You could not be more wrong.
Your brain is constantly developing, continually making new neural pathways AND thereby growing. It is forever building your cognition or cognitive abilities.
It should, therefore, be apparent, why you should be exercising your grey cells. Why you need to be constantly learning new skills and capabilities. You need to fight back against the MonSter.
Practising existing abilities and skills is good; the practice reinforces and strengthens the neural pathways you have established. But learning new skills and abilities builds NEW neural pathways and connections.
By growing the number of neural connections, you are growing your brain, helping to minimise the atrophy that your chronic illness is bringing about.
The Proof of the Cognition Pudding
What constitutes proof for me, may not convince you, but I can only report on my own, personal experience with learning to improve my cognition.
I chose to learn a new language; a skill I have wanted to grapple with for many years, but never quite got around to.
For a number of years, my wife and I have holidayed to Spain, so Spanish was the obvious choice for me to try and expand my linguistic abilities. Duolingo was the training platform I finally decided on.
Duolingo was perfect for me, I could install it on my smartphone or tablet and sit down to learn at any convenient time.
It became easy to stick to my daily learning target. I now take two learning sessions every day and I am really feeling the benefit.
Within a few days of starting this education regime, I was more alert, my brain fog had diminished and I had more energy.
At the time of writing this post, I have been practising my Spanish language for about a year. I am not sure that I am becoming fluent but I am definitely feeling more mentally sharp.
Can this Learning Process help You?
Yes, learning a new skill will definitely help you. You don’t need to have a chronic illness, like multiple sclerosis, anyone and everyone can benefit.
Furthermore, you don’t need to learn the Spanish language, or any other new language, you just need to learn a new skill.
Some suggestions might be:
- Foreign Language
- Tennis or Squash
- The biology of YOUR body
Anything that involves new thinking. New sports are good because they not only involve new thinking, you need new coordination skills. Coordination uses a lot of new and different areas of the brain. Lots of new potential to grow your cerebral capacity.
I have broached this subject in the past and received a lot of positive feedback from people trying new skills. I would love to hear from you now.
The Importance of understanding brain health in chronic illness
Despite the plethora of symptoms that accompany multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia or any of a number of other chronic illnesses; the underlying problem is with the brain. This may sound melodramatic, but it is a cold reality.
In an autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia the immune system is causing inflammation in the brain. Unchecked, this inflammation can lead to permanent neural damage and long-term disability.
It is for this reason that I implore you to think closely about your mental health. A mental health problem is something that none of us want to admit to or recognise. There are too many social implications and taboos around mental health, that few of us, even our health specialists want to explore too deeply.
The sooner you accept that your brain fog is not just some minor inconvenience but a real and serious development, the sooner you can take remedial action and the sooner you start to take action, the sooner the mitigation can begin.
So look closely at your diet, begin to work your brain and start to take control of your life. Don’t wait until the problem becomes unavoidable, as soon as you have been given a diagnosis, even if your symptoms are very mild; take action.
The sooner you begin the fight, the better the outcome will be. Yes, many symptoms can be reversed, But they are far better avoided completely.
It would be remiss of me not to offer you the chance to expand your understanding of cognitive behavioural therapies. The following Amazon books are all ones that fascinate me.
I love the “For Dummies” series of books and I have many of them in my book collection. They cover a multitude of subjects and we all have space in our mind for learning.
If you have a question, please leave it on the comments section, below. I will respond, hopefully in a timely manner.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned content upgrades. A content upgrade is essentially an extension of the post content that you can sign up for if you choose. A content upgrade can take many forms, in this case it is a private video.
It may have been a free e-book, a worksheet or access to a private Facebook group. It could be whatever I think you might be interested in.
In the meantime, I was going invite you to take a look at my video presentation where I intended to discuss cognition related experiences. You were to be asked for your email to gain access to my private video store, but that is no longer my motivating driver.
So, I hope you found this post useful even if I haven’t included a video. I still have my private video store and, maybe one day, I will fill it with worthwhile videos.