Memory difficulties are the most commonly reported cognitive difficulties by people with MS. Laboratory studies have shown that groups of people with MS tend to be less efficient at memory tasks than people without MS. This includes remembering lists and remembering words that were paired with another word. Sometimes recognising words that have been seen before is not as hard as remembering words without any cue. There is evidence that memory problems in MS are secondary to a primary slowing of processing speed.

There is quite a lot of evidence that how information is presented to people with MS can make a big difference to how ell they are able to remember it. If people with MS organise and “think” about the information as it is presented (“processing” and “encoding”), they do better at remembering. Reducing the information presented to essentials and removing non-essential items also helps. Cues and prompts are most helpful when the person with MS has thought of them themselves, rather than someone else thinking them up on their behalf.

Cognitive difficulties

Further Reading

Adler G, Lembach Y. Memory and selective attention in multiple sclerosis: cross-sectional computer-based assessment in a large outpatient sample. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2015 Aug;265(5):439-43.

Deluca J, Leavitt VM, Chiaravalloti N, Wylie G. Memory impairment in multiple sclerosis is due to a core deficit in initial learning. J Neurol. 2013 Oct;260(10):2491-6.


The simple approach of retrieval practise is effective for many people with MS. Some studies have investigated how computerised packages can improve memory in MS. However, one programme which adapted to each person’s starting memory level, gave feedback and adapted to each person’s rate of progress did produce improvement in memory function. Teaching people with MS to incorporate information to be remembered into a story (and thus use context and imagery) did improve the memory of those with more marked memory difficulties.

Further Reading

Sumowski JF, Leavitt VM, Cohen A, Paxton J, Chiaravalloti ND, DeLuca J. Retrieval practice is a robust memory aid for memory-impaired patients with MS. Mult Scler. 2013 Dec;19(14):1943-6.

Goverover Y, Chiaravalloti N, DeLuca J. Self-generation to improve learning and memory of functional activities in persons with multiple sclerosis: meal preparation and managing finances. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2008;89:1514-21.

Ernst A, Blanc F, De Seze J, Manning L. Using mental visual imagery to improve autobiographical memory and episodic future thinking in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis patients: A randomised-controlled trial study. Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2015;33(5):621-38.

Chiaravalloti ND, Moore NB, Nikelshpur OM, DeLuca J. An RCT to treat learning impairment in multiple sclerosis: The MEMREHAB trial. Neurology. 2013 Dec 10;81(24):2066-72.

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