The Senior Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding MS

For family members or loved ones caring for a senior with multiple sclerosis (MS), nothing is more important than understanding the disease and how it affects older adults. The symptoms vary a great deal from one senior to another, even in the advanced stages. One senior may experience muscle weakness that leads to paralysis, while another may experience only a slight amount of coordination loss. MS is, in a word, unpredictable.

What is MS?

Multiple sclerosis is a type of nerve disease. The condition is usually diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 40. The disease gradually worsens as time goes by, reaching its most debilitating stage as the patient enters into his or her senior years. By this time, MS has often caused irreversible muscle damage or paralysis, along with a host of other complications.

When you take into account all of the normal age-related hurdles and limitations a senior must face, adding MS complications to the mix usually warrants round-the-clock care. Seniors may no longer be mobile, able to dress or possess the dexterity to feed themselves. They are often forced to rely solely on a caregiver for all activities of daily living.

What Causes MS?

Though we don’t know what actually causes MS, we do understand how the disease works. The nerves inside your body are covered with a thin type of insulation. This insulation is called the myelin sheath and, without it, your nerves can’t function properly. MS gradually damages the myelin sheath and causes nerve dysfunction. In fact, the insulating sheath is often completely destroyed by the patient’s senior years.

Caring for a Senior with Advanced MS

Choosing where to care for a senior loved one with advanced MS will ultimately depend on his or her needs and your available resources. Naturally, when suitable, care at home is preferred by most seniors and their family members. The most debilitating symptoms of MS are seen in the elderly, as the disease has had decades to progress by this point. During its final stages, caregivers might expect to see the following:

  • Shallow, labored breathing
  • Pain
  • Inability to swallow
  • Paralysis of the lower body
  • Muscle contractions or stiffness
  • Problems with using the bathroom
  • Memory loss or brain fog
  • Depression
  • Recurring bouts of infection
  • A marked decline in muscle mass or weight loss
  • A first (or recurrent) episode of aspiration pneumonia

Caregivers face a unique set of challenges when caring for a senior with MS. However, with the proper resources and support, you can provide your senior loved one with a safe, secure and loving environment.

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