Question: Does MS-related Cognitive Dysfunction Progress Like Alzheimer's Disease?
I read the novel Still Alice
by Lisa Genova, a wonderful book written from the perspective of a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. I loved the book, and thought that it was meticulously researched and wonderfully crafted. However, as a person who struggles with cognitive dysfunction as a symptom of my multiple sclerosis
, I also found many of the cognitive challenges faced by the main character to be a little too close to home for comfort, leading to many moments of wondering, “Is this going to happen to me, too?”
A: No. I was relieved to find out that, unlike Alzheimer’s disease, MS-related cognitive dysfunction
progresses to a point, then seems to level off. Here are some of the main differences between the effects of the two diseases on cognitive function:
primarily destroys gray matter (neurons) in the brain
continues to progress
affects both short-term and long-term memory
ability to communicate is eventually lost (aphasia)
ability to identify loved ones is eventually lost and memories “erased”
attention span problems (distractability) are present from early in disease
Multiple Sclerosis-Related Cognitive Dysfunction
primarily involves white matter (myelin and underlying axons) in the entire central nervous system and optic nerves, with some limited involvement of gray matter later in disease
does not usually progress
short-term memory problems are the most common form of MS-related cognitive dysfunction; little impact on long-term memory
may cause mild word-finding difficulties (dysphasia), but rarely causes aphasia
older memories and stored information still intact, just slower speed of accessing this information
problems with attention span, but not as severe
Alzheimer’s Disease. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2009.
Kalb, Rosalind. Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions You Have - The Answers You Need (2nd Ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing. 2000.