Female caregiver holds the arm of an elderly woman with walker outside.

Caregiving for a Loved One With MS

Last updated on February 14, 2022

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 over 65 make up nine percent of the population living with MS.

Since MS has many of the same symptoms as aging, with muscle weakness being a primary concern, seniors with MS are at increased risk of many dangers faced by unaffected seniors.

For example, people living with MS are at increased risk of falls for, so a senior with MS incurs increased risk.

Muscle weakness can be fatal, both to seniors and MS sufferers. A professional caregiver trained in fall prevention and will be able to plan towards minimizing your loved one’s risk of serious injury from falls.

Read this article on fall prevention for information on ways to mitigate falls for ways to help reduce that risk.

Around two-thirds of those with MS have a progressive form of the disease, so it will worsen as they age. Older sufferers are more likely to have a higher level of disability than younger people with MS and are more likely to have bladder and bowel issues.

How Homecare Can Help With MS

If your loved one has MS, it’s very likely that he or she will eventually need home care. It may be that you can provide some or all of this yourself, but hiring a professional caregiver to help, if only to give you respite, should be something you consider.

The National MS Society reports that 85 percent of seniors with MS need some form of help at an average of 2.75 hours per day. Some common types of support needed may be with chores, such as meal preparation, housework, shopping, transportation or with personal care like bathing, dressing and help to move around the house. A professional caregiver can help with these things. This person can be around as much or as little as you and your loved one needs, whether that’s stopping by for a couple of hours a week to give you a break, or coming every day to provide company and assistance.

It may be that your loved one is still independent and able to complete most tasks alone, but even so, it can be worth considering professional care as an option during relapses, when the symptoms will be worse, or later when his or her condition is likely to deteriorate.

Consider this helpful read for information on when to begin care.

A professional caregiver will have experience of your loved one’s condition and will be aware of how they can best help. They will not, however, be able to give medical treatment or administer pharmaceuticals.

Multiple sclerosis is a condition that will last for the rest of your loved one’s life. Learn as much as possible about the disease, talk to your loved one's doctors and ask questions. And to ensure your loved one can go on living inside his or her home, without you having to quit your job or bend over backward to make both obligations fit, consider home care services.

You can learn more about vital home care services by clicking here.

If you're interested in our compassionate home care services for you or a loved one, contact your nearest Visiting Angels home care agency today or call 800-365-4189.
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