We all have heard the concept of "use it or lose it" applied to aging people and keeping their minds and bodies active and healthy. It turns out that maybe there is something to this idea around lessening the bad effects of MS-related cognitive dysfunction, goes a theory called "cognitive reserve."
The idea behind the theory of cognitive reserve is that people who have more "active" brains can sustain higher levels of brain damage before they begin to lose functionality.
In people with multiple sclerosis (MS), this means that people who are more intelligent, more highly educated and/or have more challenging work can have more evidence of disease progression (demyelination and atrophy) before demonstrating the same evidence of cognitive dysfunction as other people who are not inherently as smart or educated.
In a recent study conducted among people with MS, scientists reported; "Individuals with high cognitive reserve were more likely to report lower levels of perceived disability and perceived cognitive deficits, and higher levels of physical health, mental health, and well-being."
The primary mechanism that is proposed is that the more "active" brains are able to compensate for the damage by "recruiting" other parts of their brains (other brain networks) to get mental tasks completed.
For a more in-depth discussion of the theory of cognitive reserve (although most of the examples are about Alzheimer's disease), see: What is cognitive reserve? Theory and research application of the reserve concept