Hot Weather Can Slow Down Thinking in People with MS

Turns out that the heat can slow down our thinking, too.

Staying Mentally Strong in the Heat
Staying Mentally Strong in the Heat. Buena Vista Images/Getty Images

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 multiple sclerosis and 40 people without multiple sclerosis.

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.

Based on these results, the authors of the study pointed out that 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) could seem like it worked 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.

Ask for Accommodations at Work

If you are comfortable, you may want to explain to your colleagues at work that 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.

For instance, you could ask to be moved from a situation that had you outside during hot months. You might request a fan or a lower temperature in your office. A mini fridge to store cold water or an ice pack may also be helpful. If you find yourself sweating at work, you may inquire about wearing looser, lightweight clothing during summer months.

Minimize Chaos in Your Environment

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 a cycle of stress and frustration.

Try these simple tips to minimize the chaos in your home and work environment, especially in the summertime when you may find yourself indoors more.

  • Clean up your house regularly—get the whole family involved, delegate chores to each member
  • Throw out or donate clothes, toys, and furniture you do not use anymore
  • Turn off the television and enjoy quiet or family time
  • 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

Stay Cool

To help your thinking and memory, you need to stay cool. During hot months or if you anticipate a sweaty or sweltering environment, be prepared with cooling devices like a cooling vest, cold beverage, damp washcloth to place over your neck or wrists, a portable fan, an umbrella or hat for shade, and lightweight cotton clothes.

A Word from Verywell

Treat yourself kindly. It is easy to get upset at yourself or frustrated when you do not get your work done, and/or you forget things. But in the end, it is not helpful to become flustered and self-deprecating. Instead, when you feel these emotions coming on, try to slow down your reactions to things and figure out how to make your 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. Whatever it is, remember to be good to yourself.

Edited by Dr. Colleen Doherty October 15th 2016.

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