Multiple Sclerosis is a lifelong disease that affects the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves in the eyes. The disease causes problems with balance, muscle control, vision and other body functions.
The effects are frequently different for everyone who develops the disease. Some people have minor symptoms and aren’t in need of treatment. Others will have trouble getting around and performing daily tasks.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease in which the padding that covers the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This damage disturbs the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a broad range of signs and symptoms, including mental and physical problems.
MS takes on different forms, with new indications either occurring in isolated attacks or accumulating over time. Between attacks, symptoms may fade completely; however, permanent neurological complications frequently occur, especially as the disease advances.
While the cause is not apparent, the underlying process is thought to be either destruction by the immune system or malfunction of the myelin-producing cells. Suggested causes for this include genetics and environmental factors such as infections. MS is usually diagnosed based on the exhibiting signs and symptoms and the results of corroborating medical tests.
There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatments make an effort to improve function after an attack and inhibit new attacks. Medications used to treat MS while moderately effective can have adverse side effects and not be tolerated well. Life expectancy is on average 5 to 10 years lower than that of those that do not have the disease.
Signs and symptoms of MS
The damage that occurs to the nerve cells from MS, signifies that the brain can’t send signals through the body correctly. Your nerves also don’t work as they should to aid movement and sense touch.
As a result, you may have symptoms like:
- Trouble walking
- Feeling tired
- Muscle weakness or spasms
- Blurred or double vision
- Numbness and tingling
- Sexual problems
- Poor bladder or bowel control
- Problems focusing or remembering
The first initial symptoms often begin between ages 20 and 40. Most people with MS have outbreaks when the condition gets markedly worse. They’re generally followed by times of recovery when symptoms begin to improve. For other people, the disease progressively gets worse over time.
What Causes MS?
Doctors are unsure what the cause is of MS, but there are many things that seem to make the disease more probable. People with specific genes may be at a higher risk of getting it. Smoking also may increase the risk.
Some people may develop MS after they’ve had a viral that causes their immune system to stop working normally. The infection may prompt the disease or cause relapses. Scientists are studying the link between certain viruses and MS, but they don’t have a clear resolution yet.
Studies suggest that nearly 9 percent of multiple sclerosis patients suffer from MS symptoms late in life, getting their diagnosis after the age of 50. For these people, motor and mobility symptoms are extremely common, and the disease progresses more quickly to disability than in people who are diagnosed when they are younger.
Effects of MS on the Elderly
Though multiple sclerosis is not immediately fatal, many MS patients are at risk for serious health complications that can shorten their life expectancy. People living with multiple sclerosis are more apt to have an easier time coping with the process of aging; depression is still a major factor for elderly patients, as well as an increased risk of suicide.
Other health complications are also an issue. Decreased mobility can put older adults with multiple sclerosis at a higher risk of death from being inactive, which is a precursor to heart disease.
There is a particular point, however, that medication no longer helps a patient with multiple sclerosis. In the advanced stages of the disease there is no effect on the patient.
It is at this late stage of the disease that many MS patients find themselves with round-the-clock in-home caregivers or in a long-term care facility. When patients can no longer move about independently, then it may be time to look into some form of advanced care.
People with MS have many special requirements that are different than other patients in extended care, so it is important to find a caregiver or care facility that is experienced and knowledgeable in managing MS.
Because of the character of the disease, MS patients are usually younger and tend to live at the facility for a longer period of time. In addition, they may be more physically dependent but are completely alert mentally which may be a cause for experiencing depression. The fact that MS attacks most patients at a younger age means that a patient searching for help at a facility might be anywhere from 40 to 50 years of age. As a result, caregivers seeking an assisted living or nursing home for a loved one with MS need to ensure that the community not only has enough staffing to provide 24-hour care for the symptoms of the disease, but can provide for someone with a desire for mobility and mental stimulation.
Residential care homes and nursing homes may be a good option for MS patients because while the disease progresses they can continue residing at the home and their care will also progress for the entire interim of the disease. Assisted living may not be a good option once the person becomes bedridden, as they would need to move to a facility that can support their end stage health care needs.
Home health care agencies that provide nursing, physical therapy and hospice care can visit residential care homes to allow for the continuum of care during the progression and end stage of MS.
Many MS patients are cognitively intact, intellectually alert, and want to be stimulated so they need things of interest going on, and the facility needs to make sure transportation is available for continued independent outings.