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Caregiving for a Loved One With MS

If your senior loved one is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), it can be overwhelming. The plan for care may require significant additions, but with knowledge comes power. Taking some time to learn about the disease, its symptoms and the prognosis could help you and your loved one to come to terms with the condition and create a plan.

What Is MS?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the nervous system. It’s wholly unpredictable and can range from being relatively benign to completely disabling. It stops different areas of the brain communicating with each other and the body. Most sufferers are first diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.

What Causes MS?

The short answer is, it's unknown. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body's immune system damages cells in the nervous system as a response to an infection. People may be more likely to be susceptible to MS depending on environmental factors, infections or genetic factors. There is no one proven cause.

What Are the Symptoms?

Initial symptoms are often linked with vision. Blurred vision, color blindness and loss of vision in an eye are all common. Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Involuntary muscle spasms
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Cognitive and emotional changes
  • Pain
  • Depression

How Is It Treated?

There is no cure for MS. Managing MS and its symptoms is a lifelong process that begins at diagnosis. There are medications which may help relieve symptoms, and physical therapy and aids such as walking aids and braces can also help. Treating MS is likely to be a comprehensive process, according to the National MS Society , meaning many people will be involved in your loved one’s treatment: doctors, neurologists, therapists, nurses and mental health professionals will all play a role.

As a family member, you may find yourself suddenly responsible for helping your loved one with simple, everyday tasks. You may wish to consider whether a professional caregiver could also help.

What Is the Prognosis?

It can be hard to diagnose MS, so there may be some uncertainty in what is causing the symptoms. While most patients are mildly affected, it may cause some patients to lose the ability to speak, walk or move limbs. The symptoms come and go. At times, a patient will seem okay, and at others, they'll have a relapse where the effects of the disease worsen dramatically.

The average lifespan of someone with MS is around seven years shorter than unaffected people; however, this gap is reducing as the mortality age of people living with MS has been found to be increasing.

MS in Seniors

Multiple sclerosis is primarily diagnosed in early adulthood, but there are late-onset forms that can happen at any time. Even though it may be considered a disease for younger people, a significant number of patients are over 65. As the prognosis for MS sufferers improves, and the population ages, it’s natural that we may see more elderly MS patients. Some studies estimate that