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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease based in the central nervous system. It’s widely considered an autoimmune disorder, meaning that someone with multiple sclerosis has a body that may be attacking itself by mistake. It affects people differently and is relatively unpredictable. As such, some people with MS have only mild symptoms, while others lose many basic functions we count on to live a comfortable life, like the ability to speak, walk, see, and write. In this article, we’ll discuss some practical tips to help regardless of the level of symptomology. Let’s dive in.

Cause of MS

If MS is a new diagnosis for your loved one, you may be wondering what causes multiple sclerosis. There are a lot of potential causes of MS that include:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental conditions
  • Viral infections
  • Autoimmune disorders

Symptoms of MS

As we alluded to, the symptoms of multiple sclerosis are truly unpredictable. This disease will show up differently for different people. Some symptoms are mild, others are severe, some are short lived, and others are chronic. It all depends on the area of the central nervous system that their particular case affected. 

Here are some of the first symptoms to look for:

  • Difficulty with vision, which may mean blurred or double vision, color blindness (or more minor color issues like red/green sensitivity), pain and reduction of vision, etc.
  • Trouble walking
  • Pain, prickling, numbness, or the feeling of pins and needles

As the disease progresses, some people will also experience some of these symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness, particularly in limbs
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Muscle spasms and tremors
  • Constant fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Struggles with cognitive tasks, including concentration, attention, memory, judgment
  • Hearing loss
  • And more.

View the whole list from Hopkins Medicine here.

Tips for caregivers and their care recipients with MS

As a caregiver for someone with MS, it’s important to realize that your day-to-day responsibilities may fluctuate. The nature of MS is unpredictable and may manifest differently each day or week. To handle this, it’s important to have routines, but stay flexible in them and keep open dialogue between yourself and your loved one to see how they’re feeling each day. Beyond this, here are some tips to help you and your loved one manage symptoms in the longer term:

A healthy balanced diet

While there’s no particular diet recommended for MS, eating a diet that is nutritionally sound is linked to higher energy, healthier bodily functions, and a reduction in other symptoms including fatigue, high cholesterol, high blood, sugar, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, etc. 

Johns Hopkins Hospital’s M.D., Peter Calabresi notes that the standard Western diet seems to be linked to autoimmune diseases like MS. Trying a diet high in fiber, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, greens, seeds, lean meats, and healthy fats can help alleviate some of the symptoms. A Mediterranean diet is an example of an option that fits the bill.

Note: It’s important, however, to remain sensitive to your loved ones needs. It’s likely they looked into remedies, supplements, etc., and may not be interested in hearing advice about it. If that sounds like your loved one, consider adding healthy foods to an existing diet instead of taking away existing foods they enjoy.

Regular exercise

People with MS who commit to aerobic exercise, have been proven to benefit from increased strength, better bodily functions, and improved cardiovascular fitness. They can choose any kind of exercise that they enjoy, including yoga, tai chi, weightlifting, running, walking, cycling, etc. The key is to find an exercise regimen that doesn’t feel like a drag, because that will be easier to stick to.

Reduce obstacles

One of the hallmark symptoms of MS is difficulty with movement. These symptoms can happen quickly and suddenly and can make it hard for a loved one with MS to get around. Even in a comfortable and familiar home. 

To help your loved one adjust and stay safe, consider rearranging furniture, moving essential items closer, installing handrails, eliminating stairs, and tripping hazards, modifying slippery places like bathrooms or tile flooring, etc. to help your loved one.

Listen to them

One of the best ways to help a loved one who is currently struggling with MS is to ask thoughtful questions about how they’re feeling. MS can be a devastating diagnosis. As such, one of the best things you can do for them is listen. 

Ask them to describe how they feel, offer them a safe space to discuss their fears, and most importantly, try to avoid judgment or personal stories. If it starts with, “I know someone with MS, who…” maybe leave it out. Their journey is unique, and unless they’e specifically requested, those stories can cause more harm than good.

Closing Thoughts: Caring for Someone With MS

MS is a challenging condition for both the person diagnosed with it and their loving family caregivers. If you are caring for someone with MS, we invite you to check out our library resources. The California Caregiver Resource Center is a 501c(3) nonprofit network of 11 Centers covering the entire state of California here to help connect you with medical resources and support in this journey.

To get more information about the resources we have available to you as a California caregiver, contact us at the California Caregiver Resource Center nearest to you or join CareNav for free today. 

Further Reading: How to Support Independent Living: Keeping Your Loved One Safe and in Their Home

As a family caregiver in California, you know that supporting your loved ones at home is a growing challenge. You are essential in helping them stay independent. In this guide to independent living, we’ll show you how to safely support your loved one(s) in their independent living goals. Click here to read all about it.

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