Multiple sclerosis (MS) is easily one of the most frightening health conditions a person can experience, and it makes regular, daily activities extremely difficult for the millions who suffer from it. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), between 250,000 to 350,000 people are currently living with MS in the United States, with a number of victims demonstrating signs of the disease as young as 20.
What is MS and How Does It Affect My Loved One?
The Mayo Clinic defines multiple sclerosis as typified by destruction of the vitally protective nerve layer known as the myelin sheath due to a malfunctioning immune system. The destruction of these fibers, in turn, affects the central nervous system. Our brains rely on uninterrupted signal communication for voluntary muscle movement; in essence, by destroying nerves, MS cuts off the pathway needed to carry these actions out.
Once the body’s nerves have been damaged due to inflammation (something the myelin sheath is meant to prevent), they can be rendered useless. Depending on what region of the body MS strikes, this could potentially mean temporary or permanent paralysis. Individuals with damaged nerves that lead to the spinal cord or optic nerve are unable to move their limbs, speak or eat.
The disease is more prominent in females than males. However, MS can affect anyone at virtually any stage of life. Although the destruction of the nerve fibers is a cause of MS, the base cause of this problem is unknown. However, medical experts concur that MS is oftentimes the result of a viral infection and/or genetic defect. MS is usually more common in people who have a family history of the disease.
MS episodes and flare-ups range in severity. Individuals suffering from severe cases of the disease often require around the clock care. Given the fact that episodes of MS can occur at any time and that no cure exists for the condition, it’s crucial to have a well-informed provider to help care for a loved one suffering from this disease.
Common MS Symptoms and Treatment Options
- Symptoms vary considerably from patient to patient. Arguably the hardest part about caring for someone with multiple sclerosis is the sporadic nature of the condition. In addition to affecting virtually every region of the body, the MS attacks can range anywhere from a couple of days to a few months, with many patients experiencing remission periods that also vary in length.
- Impaired equilibrium (balance loss), numbness at or near the affected area, muscle spasms, and troubles with moving limbs are well-known muscle symptoms. The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) notes that those those suffering from the disorder are affected in other ways that include impaired vision, bladder problems, loss of hearing, sexual (impotence) and prolonged fatigue and lethargy.
- No cure exists, but there are many treatments options available. The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF) points out that medications are commonly prescribed to MS patients, namely those designed to counter muscle and urinary-related symptoms. Physical therapy is also highly recommended, as it can help individuals regain muscle strength and learn to live with the condition.
MS Home Health: What You Need to Know
As a caregiver, the best thing you can do is make your home care MS-friendly, which means installing assisted-living devices such as a wheelchair and safety equipment (e.g. wall bars, bed and bath lifts, walk-in bathtubs, toilet chairs). Staying organized and having everything your loved one needs available at all times will make life much easier.
Organization and keeping loved ones with MS on a regular schedule is key to their health and well-being. Caregivers should ensure that loved ones do not miss doctor’s appointments or injections. Certain injections of medications are crucial in terms of reducing the frequency and severity of a MS relapse or flare-up.
Emotional support is just as important for caregivers, too. While MS can certainly be stressful for both patient and provider, always remember to be patient. Attending a support group will allow you to speak with others who are living with similar circumstances, people who can also provide helpful advice outside of that offered by your loved one’s doctor.
How did you help your loved one with MS as their family caregiver? Share your story with us in the comments below.
For more information check out our Multiple Sclerosis Resources