Caring For Someone with Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and unpredictable disease that affects the central nervous system. When a person develops MS, their body’s immune system begins to attack myelin, a substance in the nerve fibers that surround the spinal cord. According to the National MS Society, nearly 1 million people currently have MS in the United States, and more research is needed to truly understand this condition.

Let’s take a closer look at multiple sclerosis and what it looks like to care for someone with this chronic disease.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

MS is a chronic disease that causes the immune system to attack nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. This leads to inflammation and it disrupts the way a patient’s brain and body send messages to one another. MS can be unpredictable and disease progression can be very different for each person living with the condition.

Although doctors cannot perfectly predict how a patient’s MS will progress, there are four different courses of the disease that have been identified.

Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS)

  • Around 85% of people diagnosed with MS have RRMS. It’s the most common course of MS and the most understood. Individuals with RRMS suffer from attacks or relapses of symptoms followed by periods of time where their symptoms decrease or disappear (remissions). A person can have active or not active RRMS, and it can further be described as worsening or not worsening, depending on whether the patient is relapsing or in a period of remission.

Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis

  • SPMS can follow a relapse-remitting course that is similar to RRMS, but a patient’s condition will progressively worsen over time. In fact, some patients who are initially diagnosed with RRMS will end up following an SPMS course over time. SPMS can be active or not active, and a person’s course can have periods of progression or without progression.

Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis

  • Around 15% of patients diagnosed with MS have PPMS. This course follows a worsening of neurologic function from the onset of diagnosis, and there are no periods of relapse and remission. Patients can have active or not active PPMS, with progression or without. In this course, a person with PPMS can have brief periods of stability, but their disease progression will continue gradually over time.

What are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

MS affects patients very differently, and individuals can suffer from a broad range of symptoms. In mild cases, a person may have very few signs of the disease, while others may suffer from debilitating symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms are listed below.

  • Fatigue
  • MS Hug (a squeezing feeling around the torso)
  • Tingling
  • Vision Problems
  • Unsteady Walk
  • Stiff/Spasming Muscles
  • Chronic Pain and Itching
  • Cognitive Difficulties
  • Sexual Problems
  • Weakness
  • Numbness

The symptoms of MS are especially unique because they can persist, progress, and then disappear, only to return again at a later time. Overall, a person’s MS symptoms will likely continue to worsen over time.

What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?

Scientists still aren’t sure what causes MS, but they think genetics and environmental factors contribute to a person’s chances of developing this condition. Several other factors may also make a person more likely to develop MS.

Gender

The most recent study funded by the National MS Society revealed that women are three times more likely to suffer from MS than men. It is believed that hormones affect the development of this disease.

Age

Most individuals are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 50, but onset can occur at any age.

Ethnicity

MS affects people of all ethnicities, but it affects white people of European descent more often. According to recent information, black women may also have a higher chance of suffering from MS.

Geography

Interestingly, MS is more prevalent in areas that are farther from the equator than in places that are nearby.

What are Other Health Conditions Associated with DMultiple Sclerosis?

The life expectancy of a person with MS has increased drastically over the last several decades. The average life expectancy of an individual with MS is about 76 years old – compared to 83 years old for those without. .

Paralysis (Especially in the Legs)

As a person’s condition progresses, the immune system continues to attack myelin around the spinal cord’s nerve fibers. This causes a disruption in communication between the brain and body, and sometimes, paralysis can occur. If this happens, an individual with MS will need to use a wheelchair, and their mobility will be greatly affected.

Bladder, Bowel Dysfunction

When brain and body communication is disrupted, MS patients can suffer from several bladder and bowel issues. Some bladder problems include urgency, frequency, incontinence, hesitancy and frequent urination at night. Many people with MS also suffer from frequent constipation. These issues can lead to frequent UTIs and other potentially serious problems.

Cognitive Changes

More than half of all people with MS experience problems with cognition. They can suffer from attention, memory, executive function, verbal fluency, information processing and visuospatial function issues.

Depression

Depression is one of the most common conditions caused by MS, and it can pop up at any point during the disease’s progression. Many factors can contribute to a person’s depression including medications, MS-related physical changes and stress.

Epilepsy

Up to 5% of people with MS suffer from seizures, and scientists still aren’t sure why people with MS are at a greater risk of this condition. Treatment is available and a doctor can help alleviate symptoms.

How a Family Caregiver Can Assist Someone with Multiple Sclerosis?

If you are caring for someone with MS, there are several things you can do to help your loved one to remain healthy. This includes staying on top of doctor’s visits and making sure they eat a healthy diet that is high in fiber. People with MS need regular exercise and sleep in order to have a higher quality of life, and you can help to encourage them to stay active. If your loved one with MS is suffering from debilitating symptoms, you can help to customize their living environment, so it’s easy to navigate and access items that they need.

Family Caregiver Program

Caring for someone with MS can be very hard, and it’s important to take care of your own physical and emotional needs. With this in mind, Barry Rosenberg created PASCO’s Family Caregiver Program in 2001. This organization works to reimburse caregivers for the time they spend helping their loved ones with lifelong diseases. PASCO works hard to ensure that caregivers and their loved ones are empowered to make the choices that are best for them and their needs.

If you’d like to learn more about our program, please contact us today.

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