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Kim

Nurse Kim Asks...

Let’s face it, at one time or another everyone has forgotten something. Most of the time we can blame it on getting older, but when you have relapsing MS, it’s normal to question anything that could be a symptom. From fatigue to cognitive issues, you may be wondering, is this part of relapsing MS, or just a normal sign of aging? Was there ever a time that you couldn’t quite tell the difference? How did you manage these symptoms?

Connie Answers...

Is it a relapsing MS symptom, or is it just aging?

I am sure that everyone forgets things from time to time—an important date, a person’s name, items at the grocery store—the list goes on and on. This is just normal for everyone, right? Yes, some degree of forgetfulness is normal for everyone. It can be caused by many things, and I find I’m more forgetful when I’m not well rested, when I’m stressed, or if I just have too many balls up in the air. As we age we tend to forget more and more and this is par for the course.

I forget things on a frequent basis. From little details to more important information. I do not know if this is a sign of aging, being overtasked, or relapsing MS, but it doesn’t change the way I feel when I forget things. It makes me so frustrated when I cannot recall information that I should be able to remember. I feel inadequate. It makes me wonder if I will be able to continue on in my career and handle all of the tasks that are expected of me. My job is very important to me, so I have figured out ways to make it work.

There are many strategies that you can employ to help combat forgetfulness. For instance, making notes on your calendar, notebook, or phone, using word association to recall someone’s name, sending yourself emails or leaving yourself messages, asking others to remind you of important information, and making lists. Or you can try one of my favorites—using sticky notes. 

Our bodies go through many changes as we age. Sometimes when you have a condition like relapsing MS, you tend to attribute any bodily changes to disease progression, but some of the changes you are experiencing are simply part of getting older.

I recall telling some of my friends that, due to my relapsing MS, I am so tired at the end of the day and I fall asleep at a very early time. One chuckled and said, “I feel like that too and I don’t have MS.” We all decided that the reason we feel so tired is because we run ourselves ragged trying to take on the same amount of stuff as we did when we were in our early 20s. Guess what? We are NOT in our early 20s anymore!

There are definitely changes that are not related to the normal aging process such as numbness and tingling, and impaired use of a limb that are easy to recognize, but sometimes symptoms, such as memory loss, are vague, and I wonder, are these relapsing MS-related or signs of something else? The best course of action that you can take is to track any and all new or worsening symptoms so that you can discuss them with your healthcare provider. They will listen to your symptoms, do some assessments, and then determine the best course of action for you. 

See What Pam Says
Pam Answers...

Is it a relapsing MS symptom, or is it just aging?

There are some days, I’ll admit, that it’s easier to blame an odd symptom on “getting older” than it is to confront that maybe, just maybe, the relapsing MS is lurking. I have wondered, is it because I just want to push it aside and not have to deal with it for another day? How can I know for sure if it’s something I need to pay closer attention to?

It reminds me of this past summer when we battled the lily pads that were slowly trying to take over our pond. To the casual observer, they were beautiful green platters floating across the water. However, BELOW the surface was a tangled-up mess. If we ignored the unyielding entanglement, it would have eventually choked out other plant and aquatic life, leaving us with a non-swimmable, dying pond.

Like our pond, I sometimes camouflage my surface (meaning, I try to hide any signs of aging or my relapsing MS symptoms). But when someone comes along and brings my attention to the fact that my camouflage isn’t working, it’s hard not to take it personally—at first.

A few years ago, I was gifted with a memorable OUCH moment when my young, innocent niece asked, “Aunt Pam, did you spray your hair with silver spray paint?”

REALLY?!

It was true. My hair was due to be colored. How could I have missed something that significant? It took an “out of the mouths of babes” moment to get my attention, even though others saw the obvious but chose not to mention it.

Covering up “getting older” with a box of hair color is one thing, but it’s another thing to blame a relapsing MS symptom on “getting older.” It can be another kind of OUCH moment.

Occasional forgetfulness that I had chalked up to “getting older” threatened my disguise. I was signaled by others that this might be something I need to look into. It’s a different kind of feeling than misplacing my keys, groceries, or medication (sad to say, but I have a lot of experience in these categories, too). Sometimes I would struggle to recall a word, a phrase, or someone’s name. When this happens, I feel a bit helpless.

Here’s an example of a typical conversation I have with myself:

“Wow! I cannot believe this! How embarrassing! Think, Pam, think! Okay, play it cool so no one catches on that you are panicking.”

I try to reach the word bank in my mind without others perceiving my internal panic. My mind feels like what the lily pads look like under the surface. Brain fog is real. As real as the silver under my “Natural Medium Ash Blonde” hair color.

There may be times when others can direct our attention to a symptom that we have not previously acknowledged for ourselves. Try not to take offense at their efforts. This really is a good thing, and maybe confirms that this is something to talk to the doctor about.

Now, what was I saying again? I know it was important…

See What Connie Says
Kim

Nurse Kim Sums It Up

Whether it’s making a note on your calendar or having others remind you of important events, find what helps you cope with forgetfulness and fatigue. You can also talk to your healthcare provider and ask if they have any advice for telling the difference between these symptoms and how to handle them. In the time leading up to your next appointment, check out our Symptom Tracker. It can help you keep track of what you’re experiencing and what you should discuss with your healthcare provider.

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