Supporting Someone with Multiple Sclerosis

How to Help if Someone You Love is Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis or MS is an immune-mediated disease of the central nervous system. The exact factors that cause the disease remain unknown. What is known, however, is that the protective coating around the nerve fibers or myelin is attacked by the immune system’s T-Cells. This battlefield leaves many (multiple) areas of scarring (sclerosis) along the nerves. This creates a disruption in the flow of information from the brain to the body in this unpredictable and often disabling condition. No two people will experience the same symptoms or severity of symptoms; however, all individuals living with MS will at some point have problems walking, talking, seeing and thinking.

Who is affected by this Disease?

As of the date of this article, studies suggest that MS currently affects over 400,000 individuals, and it appears to be more prevalent in women. Additional research has shown that the loved ones of individuals living with the disease are also affected. For example, a recent survey concerning multiple sclerosis caregivers revealed that “56% of the participants had provided care for a spouse/partner (30%) or a parent (26%). While 44% cared for either a friend or a neighbor.”

How Do I Support My Loved One?

A major concern among most caregivers is how to be supportive and helpful to their loved ones. This is both commendable and important, but it is also important for caregivers to remember to take good care of themselves. According to one researcher, these tasks can be accomplished in the following five ways:

  1. Thoroughly research MS. Go to reputable MS websites and organizations, or read books about the disease. The more you know about MS, the more power you have to help your loved one.
  2. Don’t feel as if you are alone. There are MS Caregiver support groups online and offline. Additionally, you should not be afraid to ask family and friends for help. Many people are in a similar situation and can provide information from their own experiences to help you. Talking with others can help to relieve some of the stress you are experiencing and protect your own health status.
  3. Go directly to the source. Always ask your loved ones to tell you what they need. Each individual living with MS will experience the disease and subsequent symptoms differently. This is why the classic cases presented in books or on websites may not fit the situation your loved one is experiencing. Due to the fact that these individuals’ needs may change on a daily basis, it is important to ask them first for guidance and direction in their care.
  4. Don’t be afraid to include them in social activities. Some activities may need to be adapted according to your loved one’s capabilities and level of tolerance, but continue to include him or her in all social activities for as long as feasible. The goal is to make the individual feel important and not excluded.
  5. Try to maintain an attitude that doesn’t project pity. MS is unpredictable and often disabling; however, feeling sorry for your loved one won’t help or change the situation. Making a concerted effort to be genuinely positive as opposed to coddling your loved one is imperative.

In conclusion, although MS is a disabling and unpredictable disease, it can be “handled,” especially with love and support. There are many ways that a caregiver can provide support to their loved ones; nevertheless, two major approaches that will guarantee success are:

  • Always ask for guidance and directions from your loved ones.
  • Thoroughly educate yourself about this condition.
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