Does Too Much Confusion or Noise Bother You?

Throughout all my years living with MS, I never thought of this question as being related to this disorder. When I was younger, I just assumed it was the result of my chaotic life. As I got older, I attributed to just that—age. Not long ago, I read that noise and confusion may be bothersome to people with MS. But it’s not talked about very much, and I do read about MS actively in a number of sites.

Recently, my husband was grinding rock for hours in the backyard, and I thought I was going to flip out; the earplugs weren’t able to keep all the persistent noise out. Out of curiously, I went on the Reddit multiple sclerosis group and posted this:

Does Too Much Confusion/Noise Bother You? These drives me nuts, especially if it’s loud and going on for a long time. I’ve been using earplugs a lot, or have to get away from it. I used to blame it on being an older age, but I’ve read that this is common in MS.”

 Go to the right place to get a good answer.

Wow—83 upvotes so far and 49 comments. That was just less than a day ago, and the comments are still coming in. I wasn’t alone, as I read “Yes!” after “Yes!!” after “Yes!!!”.

While the comments were coming in, I wanted to know more. So, I googled ‘noise sensitivity and MS’. VeryWell Health states This condition, called hyperacusis, can be among the subtle effects of MS. This sound sensitivity can interfere with your ability to concentrate, socialize, or even sleep. Symptoms related to hyperacusis may wax and wane. Hyperacusis can result from damage to parts of the brain from MS…

Long ago, I had reached the stage that I don’t automatically assume all my quirky problems are caused by MS. Boy, was I wrong this time. My continued search led me to a 2018 post by Healthline about what triggers sensory overload: When surrounded by too much noise, exposed to too many visual stimuli, or put in new or loud environments, many people with MS report experiencing confusion, fatigue, and pain. Sometimes, sensory overload is related to myoclonus, a stimulus-sensitive symptom that can cause involuntary jerking of muscles.


 What the Reddit group said.

 There was much more feedback than I anticipated. Specific, useful comments were made after most of the ‘yesses’:

“I didn’t know this was MS potentially! I can’t focus and get really overwhelmed/irritable with lots of noise around me. Light too. I just think I’m a cranky adult baby.”

 “Yes!  While I drive — so hard to concentrate on everything with MS brain. And I’m not that old, yet. Just turned 49.”

“Yes. When I go to the grocery store… the lights, the noise, tons of signs everywhere. My brain gets tired easily with the more it has to interpret.”

“Your description is spot on for me too.  I’m still trying to convince my neurologist that it’s an MS thing, they just said it’s tiring for everyone.”

 “YES!!! I used to think it was me being cranky…but if I have more than one stimulus, like someone talking to me plus (any of the following: TV or music or one of my kids trying to talk to me or phone rings or anything else you can think of!)”

 “Sure is a problem for me, and has been for a long time — at least since I was in my late 30s (I’m now 57). I carry earplugs with me at all times.”

 “Yes loud, loud noises or lots of layers of noise I find so very uncomfortable. Sensory overload is common but not spoken about much!”

“Consider getting tested for audiological (and visual) processing disorder and chat with OT about a full cognitive assessment. If you are in the workforce, you may need workplace accommodation for your disability. For my spouse everything changed after reading the audiology report. It’s been really helpful for me to have the written results to explain my issue to loved ones.”

 “Yes. I just got some noise cancelling headphones a month ago and they’re priceless. It made everything better and it made sure that my energy lasted longer.

 “Recently, I’ve gotten really jumpy. Like for instance I’ll be on the computer at work and someone will walk into my section of offices and I like jump out of my skin. I don’t know why, but that’s been really bothering me lately.”

“I too thought it was just me!!”

 “YES and YES! I had to give up driving. I also cannot sleep at night unless it is absolutely dark & quiet, so have to wear ear plugs & a night mask. I still have some insomnia nights where I am just too wired to sleep.”

“Yep. Some peoples’ sneezes feel like a grenade going off in my head. There’s a list of noises that cause me physical pain…

“Absolutely. I get incredibly frustrated and just want to jump out of my skin. I have asked to be moved to a different table in restaurants, I’ve left events or parties (sometimes I just need some time in a quiet spot, other times I just leave), I’m always asking my family to turn down the tv, etc. etc. I turn into a “rather not nice” if it is continuous with no escape.”

After reading the comments, I’m feeling ‘normal’.

Spreading the Word

Initially, I was beating myself up wondering, “Where have I been? Am I really that much out of touch?” But then I rationalized that VeryWell Health used the word “subtle”, and Healthline’s article also said that these things really aren’t talked about much. The specific, quick responses on the online Reddit group confirmed that this needs to brought out from under the rug.

What to do? Educate and communicate! It’s not all in our head, and there is a valid neurological explanation. Although we have to live with this and can’t prevent it, sharing information and solutions matter. I just put noise cancelling headphones on my shopping list.

If your doctors or others blow you off, show them this article. Being advised to reduce stress and fatigue may help, but it is easier said than done.


Debbie Petrina
Author of Managing MS
Community Advocate for

Are Cognitive Problems Blamed Too Much on MS?

“What to Know—What to Do”

June 4, 2013

MS has many misconceptions associated with it, and cognitive impairment may be one of them. Lately, it seems that I read and hear more and more about how MS is the cause for memory issues that MSers experience–it is gaining a reputation for brain dysfunctioning. And along with the increased reputation comes the increased fear.

Although MS can cause cognitive issues, it is important to know that they are NOT the most typical symptoms of MS. It is estimated that 40-50% of people with MS experience mild to moderate impairment; severe cognitive decline like dementia are extremely rare (source:

What are these impairments? Things such as:

• Long-term concentration; inattention; distraction
• Forgetfulness
• Planning or problem solving difficulties
• Loss in thought processes; word finding
• Not thinking quickly or clearly; “brain fog”

BUT, these types of difficulties can also be the result of other factors such as age, hormones, menopause, overload, stress, drugs, fatigue, depression and lack of sleep. For example, up to two-thirds of women report forgetfulness and other mental disturbances during hormonal shifts of menopause! So, maybe that 40-50% estimate is really lower in reality.

There is something called neuropsychological testing, and more people in the MS community are talking about them. These tests were designed to measure cognitive difficulties. However, unlike some other areas of measurement, with these tests 1) there is no single test that measures everything that the brain does, and 2) there are wide variations in how/what types of tests are done and their conclusions. Furthermore, the testing can be strenuous and expensive.

In the end, does knowing the test details make much difference in one’s life? Doesn’t it make more sense to learn about these cognitive difficulties and what can be one done to overcome them?

What to Do and Why

Exercise your brain. Practice brain games, crossword puzzles, and memory exercises that stress verbal skills.

Enrich your diet with plenty of omega-3 fats, low-glycemic index carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains) and antioxidants. Walnuts and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (including sardines and salmon) fight artery-damaging inflammation. Antioxidants raise acetylcholine, which is an essential neurotransmitter for memory. Berries, especially blueberries, are loaded with anthocyanins – potent antioxidants that protect cells, including those in the brain. Blueberries may also have the power to create new pathways for connection in the brain.

Eat several smaller meals throughout the day. Eating small meals prevents dips in blood glucose levels, and glucose is the primary energy source for the brain.

Take walks daily and do stretching exercises. Increased cardio can make your brain actually grow, with more white matter and more neuron connections.

Do stretching/relaxation exercises and meditation to reduce anxiety and stress. Stress causes the body to release cortisol. Cortisol—the body’s stress hormone– has been found to shrink the memory/learning centers in the brain, which results in impaired memory.

Make sure your body is getting enough iron. Iron helps the neurotransmitters essential to memory function properly.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Anyone who’s ever stayed up all night recognizes that next-day brain fuzziness, when it seems like nothing really registers or is available for recall later. That is what’s happening. Different parts of the brain are responsible for creating different types of memories – a face, a name, or just the recollection that you met someone. Sleep is also needed to make long-term memories last.

Focus on one task at a time to keep a recollection of each one. When you do multiple tasks, the brain switches processing to another region that retains fewer details. For example, listening to the news while reading something will impair your ability to recall either later.

Check your cholesterol. The plaque buildup can block the blood vessels in your brain, deprive it of valuable nutrients, and cue memory problems.

Keep thin or lose weight. The brains of obese people work harder than those of normal weight people to achieve the same results, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. High blood pressure and inflammation—both of which strike obese people hard–irritate the brain’s communication networks, making it more difficult for the brain to receive messages.

Many prescription drugs can affect your memory, and the older you are, the longer drugs stay in your system. Drugs that can cause memory lapses include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, beta-blockers, sleeping pills, painkillers, antihistamines, and statins.

Easy Memory Tricks

1. Repeat yourself. To help get a routine activity lodged in your brain, say it out loud as you do it. “I’m getting the stamps” – fends off distraction as you go to get them. You may sound crazy, but rehearsal is one of the best tricks for memory. Memory experts also advise that you repeat a person’s name as you are introduced.

2. Bite off bigger pieces. Since your brain can process only so much information at a time, try chunking bits together. By repeating a phone number as “thirty-eight, twenty-seven” instead of “3, 8, 2, 7,” you only have to remember two numbers, not four.

3. Give words more meaning. When you’re introduced – let’s say to Elton – connect the name to someone (“Elton John”), a place, etc. Or you can use rhymes—“Dennis plays tennis.”

4. Create unlikely connections. For example, switching a watch to the other wrist when you need to remember something. The oddity of not finding the watch where it should be triggers recall.

5. Practice paying attention. What was your neighbor wearing this morning? Even if you’ll never need the information, forcing yourself to observe and recall the details of your day sharpens your memory.

6. Do something mentally challenging. Working a crossword puzzle, or learning an instrument or foreign language creates fresh connections in the brain. It can actually generate new cells in the brain’s hippocampus (i.e. the brain’s learning/memory center). Those new cells build cognitive reserves that are important for creating new memories and may protect against memory loss – even dementia – later in life. A timed game like Boggle or Simon will force you to pay attention, work quickly, and think flexibly.

In summary, if a MSer is experiencing some type of cognitive problem, it may be prudent to initially think through the possible causes and try commonsense solutions to improve it.
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS