Dementia and Alzheimer's Risk in MS Patients
Brain fog, cloudy thinking, forgetfulness – however you know it by best, cognitive impairment is a reality for the majority of MS sufferers. Experts believe up to 65% of people with MS have trouble remembering information they had previously learned, and it’s not uncommon to have “blank” moments that leave you at a complete loss for words.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive dementia – that is, it worsens over time, and there is no known cure for the cognitive decline. It’s not uncommon to confuse the symptoms of progressive dementia with those of MS, but that can lead to unnecessary worry and frustration.
It’s important to understand the differences between the two diseases, as well as how they are related, in order to spot serious problems and protect against mental decline.
Cognitive Impairment in MS
The erratic neural signaling that’s responsible for loss of coordination, weakness, and paralysis in MS is also to blame for problems with thought and memory. And while a tendency to forget may seem like a relatively mild side effect, it can severely impact quality of life: studies show that cognitive impairment is the leading cause of occupational disability, leading to unemployment for millions of sufferers within the first 10 years of diagnosis.
Perhaps even more unnerving than potential work problems is how cognitive impairment might affect your basic mental abilities. After all, independence and happiness are fundamentally tied to brain function, and many MS patients worry that the first signs of cognitive decline point to a dark and dependant future.
Is There a Link between MS and Dementia?
There are different types of dementia: some are genetic (such as Alzheimer’s), some develop from abnormal protein formation, and others can even come from an infection. MS stems from an immune system misfire, where the body attacks nerve cells; when those nerve cells are in the brain, the degradation can result in dementia symptoms.
The good news is that there’s no evidence to suggest a link between MS and Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies agree that MS patients are no more or less likely to develop progressive dementia than other people. But while MS won’t become Alzheimer’s disease, those living with multiple sclerosis are not immune to progressive cognitive diseases.
Just like the rest of the population, genetic and environmental factors may contribute to your risk of developing dementia, and unfortunately, many MS patients live with fear that any slight cognitive change could point to big problems. Work to reduce that worry with a better understanding of the differences between the cognitive problems of MS and those that come with Alzheimer’s.