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Remember the Time – Memory Recall and MS

By Matt Cavallo
photo-256887_1920-(1).jpgMy brother recently came out to visit me and my family. Whenever we get together, we tend to reminisce about the good old times, the people we knew and the things we did way back when. We grew up in a small town, just about 18 miles south of Boston on the way to Cape Cod. It is the kind of town where everyone knows you at the grocery store and they would all tell you to say hi to your parents.
So, when my brother started going on about someone we used to know, I felt a sense of confusion. He was saying names that sounded vaguely familiar.

Only now, I couldn’t place them.
The same people I used to talk to at the grocery store are now forgotten memories. The ability to pull names, people or places out of my MS brain has become too difficult. I know that I knew them once, but now I just can’t remember. It makes me really sad to know that all of those stored memories are gone and long forgotten. When I visit home now and my parents have people over to visit, they often have to remind me of their name and how I know them. They look familiar, I just cannot for the life of me remember.
In order to deal with this new reality, I have developed compensatory strategies. If someone asks me a question, I tend to respond with a statement and rephrased question. For example:
“Matt, do you remember how much fun we had at the lake on your birthday that summer?”
“Yes, the lake was a great time. What was your favorite part?” 
This way I acknowledge their memory and invite them to tell me what they remember about it. I always love when their recollection will spark mine. Sometimes it does and for a moment I feel normal again. Then time passes and brain fog returns.
Have you ever tried to drive down a familiar road in the fog? Sometimes the fog is thin enough that if you go slowly, you can safely navigate with your memory guiding you of what to expect on the road. Sometimes the fog is so thick that even though you have driven it a million times, you just don’t know where you are and you feel scared. That is what it feels like trying to recall memories from the MS brain.
This is the way it felt listening to my brother tell me stories about things I had been a part of that I just couldn’t remember. I also didn’t want him to know that I couldn’t remember so I asked questions and conversed. I was frustrated and sad, though, that I couldn’t relive these moments with the same vigor and excitement in which he shared.
I know that these memories are locked in the vault of my mind. The trouble is that MS is the lock and no one has the key. If you are like me and going through memory recall issues with MS, then you may need some help navigating the fog. Here are some tips for memory recall and MS.

One thing at a time. Maybe you used to be a terrific multitasker, but focusing on one thing and seeing it through will keep you and your mind on task

Reduce distractions. Memory recall takes effort with MS. By reducing distractions (audio and visual), clutter, and devices, you will be able to increase your focus.

Keep a journal. If you know you are going to forget things, write them down. With the smart devices, you can even speak them into a phone. It is always fun to go back and read of your adventures.

Make a list. Nothing feels more gratifying than completing a list when you have to overcome cognitive challenges to do so.

Mental exercises. Crossroads, Sudoku or other puzzles help exercise your brain and keep it sharp.

Sleep. Get enough sleep and stick to a sleep schedule so that your mind, body and soul have time to heal.

Routine. Do the things you need to accomplish everyday so that they become a habit. After a while, you will be almost on autopilot and get the gratification of having completed tasks by memory.