Friday, April 6, 2012

Hot Weather Can Impair Cognition in People with MS

Writer, ms.about.com
 
I bet that many, if not most, people with MS who are reading this are thinking, "This is news? I could have told anyone that my thinking (along with other things) is impaired in hot weather." This actually is a big deal, because it is the first time that the link between heat and cognitive functioning in people with MS has been formally demonstrated.

Researchers from the Kessler Foundation, with funding from the National MS Society and the National Institutes of Health, conducted a study comparing  cognitive functioning in different temperature conditions in 40 people with MS and 40 people without MS. The data showed that people with MS scored 70 percent worse on tests of memory and processing speed during hot days, while people without MS scored the same during hot and cool days.

This is important information for many reasons. The study scientists pointed out that this type of seasonality could really affect clinical trial results. For instance, if people enrolled in a trial in the summer and were followed for six months, a drug to treat cognitive dysfunction (or many other MS symptoms, really) could seem like it worked really, really well, when in fact, much of this improvement could simply be due to temperatures dropping.

That is interesting from a scientific perspective, but what does this information about heat and cognition mean for people with MS? There are no treatments that are effective for cognitive dysfunction, but there are some things we might be able to do to help ourselves. Most of us have strategies we use to stay cool and avoid overheating. Here are a few additional tips you may want to consider:

Ask for accommodations at work: Clearly, this applies if you have told the people that you work for that you have MS. If so, you may want to explain to them that the hot weather makes things a little harder for you and that you want to do a good job, but need a little help. Be specific in what you want – certainly, you could ask to be moved from a situation that had you outside during hot months. You could also ask for people to communicate with you in certain ways, so that you wouldn't miss anything that might be mentioned in passing – document requests in e-mail or using a shared online calendar might help.

Fix your world: I think many of us are our own enemy when it comes to cognitive dysfunction. We try to multitask while living in a world with constant noise and clutter, which leads to stress and frustration when we can't get everything done or forget things. Try this: Clean up your house. Turn off the television. Focus on one thing at a time – when you talk on the phone, just concentrate on the conversation – don't simultaneously fix dinner, surf on the Internet and keep an eye on your toddler. You may think you have no time for only doing one thing at a time – trust me, you will get more done and it will be done better if you don't try to do it all at once.

Be patient: Treat yourself kindly. Yes, I get mad at my brain for slowing down in the summer and I have gotten frustrated that my work doesn't get done and I forget things and on top of it, I feel lousy for a good chunk of the year. Guess what? That hasn't helped me one bit. In fact, it makes everything worse when I let myself get flustered. When I feel these emotions coming on, I try to slow down my reactions to things and figure out how to make my immediate situation better. Sometimes, dropping everything and having a big cold glass of iced tea is enough to derail the negativity. Other times, it may take a little more effort, like a cool shower or a phone call to a friend. 

As we head into summer, think about what you can do to make these months bearable for yourself. I'm going to make it a goal to try to find a way to enjoy myself during the upcoming hot days a little, rather than glaring out at the world from behind my curtains. 

 
 

14 comments:

  1. Yes and Definitely about Hot Weather! For me personally: "Fix your (my) world: I think many of us (me) are our own enemy when it comes to cognitive dysfunction. We try to multitask while living in a world with constant noise and clutter". Amen! and Amen!

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  2. have there been any studies on reverse seasonal affective disorder in patients with MS who live in warm climates?
    living in florida, thats what happens to me. its so hot, for so long, that i feel stuck inside. cooling vests and such only do so much. especially with the type of heat we have.

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  3. Thank you for posting this. I was diagnosed in August 2010 and kind of thought it was "just me" but this helps explain and confirm I'm not crazy. :) I have a toddler and figured it was just trying to keep up with her that was making it difficult but really do notice a negative change in my processing when I get hot. Also I have heard of cooling vests but don't know where to get one...

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    1. Hi, There are 2 providers of these cooling vests and other similar equipment that I have found.
      http://www.steelevest.com/index.asp?page=Home_L.htm http://polarproducts.com/polarshop/pc/home.asp
      Have you signed up/ registered with the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America( MSAA)? The MSAA has a program to help with some of the expense of some these items( some packages can get a bit pricey). http://www.msassociation.org/programs/cooling/
      I hope this info can help, J

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  4. Last year my husband suggested I get a "Mister" and it has made the hot summer months bearable!! We got it at Wal-Mart for fairly reasonably priced. I put ice cold water in it, turn the fan on and carry it with me all day!

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  5. Thank you "unknown" for your post I too was diagnosed in 2010 and often feel as though I'm loosing my mind. I do get comfort in knowing I'm not alone just dont feel yet, comfortable in seaking out a support group. I guess for now this is my support group

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    1. Jennifer I was diagnosed this February, and I KNOW I'm losing my mind, lol! I find my mind slipping from the smart alec engineering student I was, to the quiet & confused person I've become. I have become quite isolated since my symptoms took over in the past couple of years, so I can empathize with your feelings. I found one group near me and when I did go, three amazing & sweet people greeted me. My problem was that I felt like an infant as they had me by at least two decades. We are not as alone as it feels at times, just too hesitant to reach out maybe...

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  6. Being diagnosed (this past Sept 2011) was, for me, a relief in some way. My diagnosis happened relatively quickly, but now that we know I have MS - so much seems to make sense! I've felt for many of my last 10-15 years that maybe I'm just a whiner, always with some peculiar pain or sensation issue that I can't exactly explain or articulate to anyone else. I am certainly much more affected by the heat in the last year than ever before. I just started gardening (in a pretty big way) in the last two years, and until recently had decided that I shouldn't garden at all this coming summer while I'm learning to navigate with MS. I've reversed that decision and will do a bit of gardening (scaled way down) this summer anyway. I'm nervous about the commitment, but we'll see how it goes!

    I have one new friend who is recently diagnosed as well - and we've been able to build some good support for each other so far. I'll just put this out there: I would be enjoy connecting with anyone else who'd like to have more connections to more people dealing with some of the strange oddities of MS!

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  7. Cold weather is a killer as well.
    Took 3 summers for my wife to see hot hot weather affected me.
    Sometimes people that don'ty suffer from MS don't understand how the weather affects us.

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  8. Very interesting information. For me, living with ms for 6 years. I have found that playing mahjongg (the real game) at least twice a week, is very helpful in keeping some of the cognitive skills active. It is sometimes challenging getting into the house where the game is, usually there are steps of some sort, or they may not have their a.c. on, but once situated, my brain will kick on and it is okay, but in the heat my hands don't work so well. That's another challenge in the heat. But doing something like mahjonbgg or a card game on a regular schedule, should help, I hoped!

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  9. I wish more people would know how heat affects us. In the winter month when I'm in the car group, the ladies dress 'cute.' In other words they'll wear short leather jackets instead of a full on winter coat. What happens then is that they blast the heat in the car. Once I got so overwhelmed from the heat that I couldn't get out of the car fast enough. When I ask if they could lower the heat, Ms. I want to look cute complained how cold she was. I couldn't go on to the assignment. Had to get out and go home.

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  10. I really, really DO have MS - absolutely no question, diagnosed nearly 25 years ago, symptoms for closer to 40 years - BUT I have no trouble with heat. I'm worse in cold weather. The worst: humidity.

    When one MS-specialist nurse (whom I met when my legs first became a problem) warned me that I could expect trouble with humidity, I laughed her off - because HEAT is the one problem they all warn us about. Well, she was right: I'm totally zonked in cloudy, humid weather (whether hot or cold), and cold weather is a killer - but heat is never a problem for me.

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  11. I know the humidity heat does a horrible number to me especially since I work in a factory with no air, and heaters on our machines it is very hard for me and no body seems to understand me cause they don't see any thing on the outside. I also am now having problems with that tingling numbness that has really intensified in my feet and more so in my right hand. I can't feel the floor normally at all and have to stand at work sometimes for a long period of time and it starts hurting and the fatigue then intensifies. What's up with this. Help me understand the numbing affect. Does anyone else have problem with numbness. HELP!

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    1. Tdsegs, yes I have a problem with numbness in my feet, and people not seeing "anything" and thinking you are perfectly okay. I am so sorry that you have to work in a factory with no air. If there's any way you can get out of there? In the long run you will probably be so thankful that you did!

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