Chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis can affect a whole family, particularly the lives of the loved one’s adult children and grandchildren.
Multiple sclerosis is characterized by its wide variations in symptoms and unpredictable nature, affecting each person differently and to varying levels of intensity.
The onset of MS usually occurs between the ages of 20-40, often when your loved one is old enough to have children who are independent. Over the course of 20 years, MS symptoms may worsen, causing 60 year olds to have more severe symptoms of MS.
Families and caretakers can learn more about the early signs of multiple sclerosis so they can feel empowered to manage their situation more positively.
In this article, we’ll explain what multiple sclerosis is, its various symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options, and how you can help your loved one get the care they deserve.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own brain and spinal cord nerves, gradually damaging the protective covers of the nerves (myelin sheath). Because of this, MS is known as a “demyelinating disease.”
The damage caused by demyelination causes a disruption in the central nervous system’s communication, negatively affecting the body’s ability to move, and also impacting cognition.
Multiple sclerosis can be an unpredictable disease and frustrating for your loved one, particularly when they feel fine one day, and wake up another day with vision problems, mood changes, or paralysis.
It’s common for loved ones with MS to go into remission, meaning they don’t experience any symptoms for short periods of time, but can also experience flare-ups or relapses, in which sudden, unexpected episodes of new or worsening symptoms can disrupt their daily life.
Currently, there is no known cure for multiple sclerosis, but there are medications that can manage the symptoms and severity of its attacks.
Types of MS
There are three categories of MS: relapsing, primary progressive, and secondary progressive.
Relapsing MS is defined by relapses that last for 24 hours, in which new or worsening symptoms present themselves, and then are followed by long stability periods (remission).
This is the most common form of MS, accounting for 85% of people diagnosed. Over the course of a few decades, relapsing MS usually progresses into a more severe form of MS called secondary progressive MS.
Stress, fatigue, smoking, and excessive heat can trigger a relapse or flare-up episode.
Secondary Progressive MS
Secondary progressive MS is a continuation of relapsing MS, in which people living with relapsing MS over time have developed significant nerve damage.
It has historically taken about 20 years for relapsing MS to develop into secondary progressive MS.
Luckily, today there are medications that can prolong the onset of secondary progressive MS, or stop it completely from happening.
This form of MS affects about 10-15% of people diagnosed with MS. It is considered the most severe form of MS and can lead to permanent disability.
Unlike other forms of MS, there are no relapses, attacks, or remission. The symptoms present themselves from the very start of the disease and progressively worsen over time.
What are the Common Symptoms of MS?
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease that affects each person differently.
The earliest signs of multiple sclerosis are subtle, and often are very different for each person. Some people might notice something off, such as a tingling or ringing in their ears, or sudden balance problems, or suddenly speaking in slurred speech.
Because the myelin sheath of nerve fibers have been damaged, the body’s ability to communicate with the central nervous system can be chaotic and unstable. There is then a wide range of symptoms and signs of multiple sclerosis, including:
- Numbness in limbs on one side of the body
- A tingling, electric shock-like sensation that occurs while moving the neck
- Lack of coordination and difficulty walking
- Blurry vision
- Vision loss, either partial or complete, which can be temporary
- Double vision
- Slurred speech
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction
- Sexual dysfunction
- Problems with memory or processing information
- Stiffness of muscles
- Ringing in ears
What Age Does MS Usually Start and What are the Risk Factors?
Multiple sclerosis typically occurs in people who are between 20 and 40 years old.
Women are two to three times more likely to develop MS than men, and white people of Northern European descent are at the highest risk of developing the disease.
There is a genetic link associated with MS, increasing your loved one’s risk of developing the disease if their parents or siblings also had the disease.
How is MS Diagnosed?
There are no definitive tests that can properly diagnose multiple sclerosis.
A doctor will evaluate your loved one to understand their symptoms. They may use diagnostic blood tests, MRIs, and spinal tap procedures to rule out other diseases that may be causing their symptoms.
An MRI scan can be used to pinpoint certain lesions in the brain and spinal cord that can be indicative of MS.
Most people diagnosed with MS have relapsing-remitting MS, which is easier to spot because of its pattern of symptoms that can be confirmed through MRI scans.
However, diagnosing other forms of MS can be more difficult, and may rely upon further scans and imaging to diagnose people with uncommon symptoms of the disease.
Helping Your Loved One Deal with their Multiple Sclerosis
Aging loved ones with MS are more prone to fall risk because their coordination and balance have been compromised due to their disease.
You can help your loved one reduce fall risk by cleaning up their home, removing clutter from walkways, and adding textured carpet that can increase their shoe’s grip.
As a caregiver, you can expect to help your loved one complete more of their daily activities and keep track of their medications, including administering injections and driving them to doctor’s appointments.
At a certain point, a family or caregiver should consider moving their loved one into an assisted living community where they will have access to registered nurses, physicians, as well as rehabilitation specialists on-site.
Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis isn’t reversible, but its symptoms are manageable.
Physical therapy, occupation therapy, and speech therapy can help your loved one manage their MS symptoms.
Certain medications, called disease-modifying therapies (DMTs), can be administered through injections or orally that can be used to prevent relapses, prevent new scarring and lesions from forming, and slow down the progression of the disease.
Kensington Place – A Community That Helps Those with MS
Our Enhanced Assisted Living Residence (EALR) license enables us to provide a higher level of healthcare than you’d find at traditional assisted living communities.
At Kensington Place, we offer more than outstanding healthcare services to your loved one.
In addition to on-site physical rehabilitation services, we also maintain a busy events calendar filled with life enrichment classes to stimulate your loved one’s mind and imagination.
If your loved one has been diagnosed with MS or is currently living with MS, and you’d like more information on how Kensington Place can help them, contact us today.
At the Kensington we extend Our Promise to you — to love and take care of your loved one as we would our own.