Older adults with multiple sclerosis (MS) are living with an illness that comes with a lot of uncertainty and change. That can make life more challenging for them as well as those caring for them. Vive Health explains what MS is and what symptoms to expect. They also share tips that help you and your older adult cope with symptoms and major lifestyle changes.
Managing the care of an older adult with chronic illness is often most frustrating when there is so much unknown about their disease. One such mystifying disease is multiple sclerosis (MS).
With varying types and progressions as well as vast array of differing symptoms which can flare-up, go into remission, disappear altogether, or simply worsen over time, living with MS and caring for someone with MS can feel like a roller coaster.
These unknowns can leave you and your older adult feeling blindsided. Being prepared with a little knowledge and the right tips and tools can help.
What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?
MS is an autoimmune disorder of the central nervous system. Scientifically speaking, in someone with MS, the body starts to attack the myelin sheath, the special protective membrane coating the spinal cord and nerve endings.
The myelin sheath is responsible for helping signals being sent back and forth between the brain and the body get to where they need to go quickly and efficiently.
As MS progresses, the myelin sheath starts to break down and problems happen with the signals. Nerve fibers become damaged and die off, lesions can grow on the brain, and spinal cord and bodily functions are affected.
7 common symptoms of multiple sclerosis
MS can progress slowly over time, or symptoms can come and go (relapse and remit). Common symptoms include:
Tremors that show up when the person with MS moves a limb, like reaching for something with their hand, are called intention tremors. Postural tremors happen in a limb when someone is sitting or standing.
Tremors and muscle spasticity are common among MS patients and can be treated with pharmacological aids, physical therapy, and items like weighted blankets.
2. Difficulty swallowing
Dysphagia is when someone has difficulty and discomfort when swallowing food and drink. When someone has dysphagia, doctors and speech therapists may recommend modified diets to make swallowing easier and prevent aspiration (inhaling food or liquid particles into the lungs).
As MS progresses, some people may experience a loss of bladder and bowel function which requires them to use incontinence briefs or keep a portable commode by their bed.
Incontinence and urinary retention issues increase the risk for urinary tract infections.
Mild to extreme fatigue is a hallmark characteristic of advancing MS and can come on suddenly as a wave for some people or can be a day-to-day reality for others.
Fatigue can result from symptoms like an overworked brain, stress, muscles being exhausted from spasming, tremors, depression, and side effects from medicine.
5. Trouble with coordination
Worsening balance issues can negatively impact agility, coordination, and mobility. Increased risk of falling and difficulty walking can happen as your older adult experiences fatigue, muscle weakness and numbness, as well as pain or dizziness.
Equipment like mobility aids, shower chairs for senior care, grab bars, and safety railings can make the home environment safer for someone with MS.
6. Impaired vision
Double vision or partial to complete vision impairment in one or more eyes may happen when someone has an MS flare-up. Involuntary, jumpy eye movements called Nystagmus tremors may also occur, causing reduced depth perception and some vision loss.
7. Additional multiple sclerosis symptoms
Other symptoms of MS may include itching, burning, and feelings of pins and needles in arms and legs from ongoing nerve damage. People with MS may also have migraines and difficulty speaking.
6 tips for caring for someone with MS
If you’re caring for someone with MS, you may have to take on variety of nursing-type tasks. These could include:
1. Monitoring vitals
Keeping track of daily vitals like blood pressure, temperature, pain levels, oxygen saturation levels, and respiration rate helps caregivers notice when something is not right and get medical help if the person with MS isn’t feeling well.
2. Managing incontinence
Losing bladder and bowel function can be heartbreaking, but being prepared for it can make a huge difference.
Discussing incontinence with their doctor, finding well-fitting incontinence briefs, investing in a bedside commode, and stocking up on supplies like underpads and wipes will help everyone adjust more easily.
3. Preventing bedsores
Someone with progressing MS who gradually loses their mobility may end up spending more and more time in bed, in a recliner, or a wheelchair.
Preventing bedsores with frequent repositioning, good hygiene, healthy nutrition, and daily body scans will be a top priority for maintaining their older adult’s health and comfort.
4. Managing depression
Like with many chronic illnesses, loneliness, anxiety, and depression are mental health realities that need to be addressed.
Caregivers can be mindful of behavior changes and social isolation their older adult is experiencing and get them help as needed.
5. Helping with fatigue and weakness
Caregivers can help their older adult manage fatigue and weakness with steps like sticking to daily routines, discussing medication side effects with doctors, and making time for daily low-impact exercises like walking, yoga, swimming, and others.
6. Managing loss of mobility
Going to physical therapy, supporting your older adult when they stand or walk, and reducing fall risk hazards at home can make coping with the physical changes easier on both them and you.
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- Incontinence – Tips for Changing an Adult Diaper [Video]
Guest contributor: Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living healthy lifestyle, she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
Image: Independent People Homecare
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