MONDAY, June 14, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Being mentally active may help reduce memory and learning problems that often occur in people with multiple sclerosis, a new study suggests.
It included 44 people, about age 45, who'd had MS for an average of 11 years. Even if they had higher levels of brain damage, those with a mentally active lifestyle had better scores on tests of learning and memory than those with less intellectually enriching lifestyles.
"Many people with MS struggle with learning and memory problems," study author James Sumowski, of the Kessler Foundation Research Center in West Orange, N.J., said in an American Academy of Neurology news release. "This study shows that a mentally active lifestyle might reduce the harmful effects of brain damage on learning and memory."
"Learning and memory ability remained quite good in people with enriching lifestyles, even if they had a lot of brain damage [brain atrophy as shown on brain scans]," Sumowski continued. "In contrast, persons with lesser mentally active lifestyles were more likely to suffer learning and memory problems, even at milder levels of brain damage."
Sumowski said the "findings suggest that enriching activities may build a person's 'cognitive reserve,' which can be thought of as a buffer against disease-related memory impairment. Differences in cognitive reserve among persons with MS may explain why some persons suffer memory problems early in the disease, while others do not develop memory problems until much later, if at all."
The study appears in the June 15 issue of Neurology.
In an editorial accompanying the study, Peter Arnett of Penn State University wrote that "more research is needed before any firm recommendations can be made," but that it seemed reasonable to encourage people with MS to get involved with mentally challenging activities that might improve their cognitive reserve.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about multiple sclerosis.