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Reserved for emergencies

Reserved for emergencies

Damage control.

We’ve been talking recently about the ways multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect the brain – like how it can lead to something called brain atrophy and how this damage can impact the lives of people living with the condition.1 But now, we want to talk about a very clever system the brain has to help it cope with this damage.

How the brain’s backup works.

We used to believe the brain stopped changing and developing in early adulthood, but we now know that’s not entirely true.2

As we get older our brain continues to change and reorganise itself, forming new pathways and strengthening others. Because of this, the brain is often described as flexible, or in fancy science terms, that it has neuroplasticity.2

Stretch
your mind

Pull and play with the plasticity of your brain and listen to the audio below.

Professor Bart van Wijmeersch

Discusses the impact of neurological reserve

The brain’s neuroplasticity and the fact that we don’t use all of our brain, all of the time, means our brain has a backup, or a reserve. If something goes wrong in one part of the brain we might be able to use other parts to work around the problem. This backup is called neurological reserve and the more the brain has, the healthier it is. It’s made up of two things: brain reserve and cognitive reserve, and both are important for your brain health.1,3

We don’t have much control over how big our brain is, as its size is determined by our genetics.1

As we get older our brain very slowly starts to get smaller, in other words we experience brain atrophy.1

MS can damage our brain too; meaning brain atrophy could take place a little quicker. And, as you’ve probably already guessed, if our brain decreases in size, so does our brain reserve.1

Brain

Question:

Have you ever heard of the term neurological or cognitive reserve?

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  • Yes 65%

  • No 65%

  • Other 65%

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Professor Bart van Wijmeersch
Understanding MS

Neurological reserve

When neurological reserve runs out.

MS can cause damage, such as lesions, which could lead to faster brain tissue loss than usual.1

As damage takes place in the brain, new areas are recruited to carry out the functions of the damaged areas – this uses up neurological reserve and the brain might not be able to carry out all of its normal functions.1

The symptoms of MS are more likely to progress when all neurological reserve runs out.3

Modified Image

Which initial symptom do you think is most commonly experienced by people living with MS?

Move the slider to reveal the percentage of people who said they experience these symptoms first...4

Which initial symptom do you think is most commonly experienced by people living with MS?

Question:

Your brain can work around some of the damage caused by MS. True or False?

Please select an answer to cast your vote

  • True 65%

  • False 65%

  • Don't know 65%

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TrueYou’re right!The brain can cope with some damage by working around broken connections.1

FalseThe brain can’t deal with all kinds of damage, but it can cope with some, by working around the broken connections.1

Don’t knowThe brain has a backup, called cognitive reserve, which uses other pathways to work around some of the damage.1

Professor Bart van Wijmeersch
Understanding MS

The downside of
neurological reserve

The downside of
neurological reserve

Neurological reserve can help our brain cope with damage caused by MS, but it can also hide it too, making it much harder to notice. This is often why MS goes undetected in the early stages of the disease. We can be feeling well and not experiencing symptoms, but MS can still be active. Only when your neurological reserve starts to run out, do MS symptoms become more noticeable.1,3

We may not experience any new symptoms when new lesions form. In fact, the majority of lesions don’t result in a relapse because the brain can build other connections and work around the damage.1

Question:

Damage to the brain caused by MS always results in symptoms. True or False?

Please select an answer to cast your vote

  • True 65%

  • False 65%

  • Don't Know 65%

Thank you for your vote

FalseDamage to the brain in MS doesn’t always result in symptoms. This is partly due to neurological reserve, which means the brain can work around some of this damage.1

FalseYou’re right!Neurological reserve means that the brain can work around some of the damage caused by MS, which can stop you from experiencing symptoms, especially early on in MS.1

Don’t knowNeurological reserve means that the brain can work around some of the damage caused by MS, which can stop you from experiencing symptoms, especially early on in MS.1

Having a backup is very important for a fully functioning and healthy brain. Neurological reserve not only helps our brain cope better as we age, it helps the brain deal with damage that can take place in MS too. Here are a couple of things about neurological reserve that are important if you have MS1
Neurological reserve can help to hold off symptoms, but on the flip side this could contribute to damage to the brain in MS going unnoticed.1
Our neurological reserve can get used up. So we need to look after our brains as much as possible, keeping them both healthy and active.1

Did you find this interesting? Take a look at our “Boosting your brain health” article

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GZEMEA.MS.17.05.0143a

References: 1. Brain health time matters in multiple sclerosis. Available at: http://msbrainhealth.org/perch/resources/time-matters-in-ms-report-may16.pdf Accessed: May 2017. 2. BrainHQ – What is brain plasticity. Available at: https://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-plasticity/what-is-brain-plasticity Accessed: May 2017. 3. Brain health a guide for people with MS. Available at: http://www.msbrainhealth.org/resources/for-people-with-ms/article/brain-health-a-guide-for-people-with-ms Accessed: May 2017. 4. Initial MS symptoms. Available at: https://multiplesclerosis.net/ms-in-america-2013/initial-ms-symptoms/. Accessed: August 2017.

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