When a loved one is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, you may be wondering what you can do to support them. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic illness that affects the central nervous system. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the protective myelin around the nerves, causing inflammation and scar tissue. This in turn makes it harder for the brain to communicate signals through these nerves to other parts of the body.
There are different types of symptoms associated with MS, depending on the nerves that are affected. With that being said, fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS, affecting nearly 80% of people with MS. In addition to fatigue, MS can also cause numbness, muscle weakness and spasticity, problems with balance and vision, chronic pain, tremors, and cognitive issues pertaining to concentration, memory, and selecting the right words. In some cases, MS can also affect speech.
Now that you know a little more about what MS is and how it can potentially affect your loved one, let’s take a look at how you can support a loved one with MS:
Educate Yourself and Inform Others
As cliche as it sounds, knowledge truly is power. One way to help support someone with MS is to do research on the condition. Knowing more about the condition and how it affects an individual, as well as their loved ones, can help you learn more about the type of support to provide. Educating yourself about their condition can also prevent you from accidentally saying something insensitive to your loved one, such as “you don’t look sick” or “it could be worse”. When looking for research sources, try the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, or the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Finally, you can use your knowledge to help inform others.
Take Care of Yourself
Another important way to support a loved one with MS is to take care of yourself. You cannot truly take care of another person if you don’t care for yourself first. Taking care of your own feelings prevents your loved one from feeling like they have to take care of you instead of the other way around. Many people with MS have expressed that it is a huge relief to simply be taken care of without any expectations. It is also less stressful for them when they don’t have to feel guilty about making you feel a certain way. A good way to take care of yourself is to set aside a time to speak with a therapist about your feelings, frustrations, and anxieties. This way, you can act as a selfless caretaker without sacrificing your own mental well-being.
Respect Their Autonomy
Just because someone has MS, doesn’t mean that they are completely unable to do things for themselves. This doesn’t mean that someone with MS will never need or want your help, however it may be helpful to discuss the types of help they would appreciate. It may also be helpful to speak with their healthcare provider as well to determine what type of help is beneficial. Although you may think that doing everything for them is a caring gesture, it can get frustrating to them if they feel like you think they are helpless.
You can also help support a loved one by being flexible. People who have just been diagnosed with MS may not exactly know what type of support they want or need. Some people may need more support than others, while some people may need different types of support. When it comes to supporting a loved one with MS, there is no one size fits all solution. Therefore, it is important to remain flexible and realize that you may need to make changes and adjustments along the way with the type and amount of support you provide. Even after a loved one has had MS for a while, they can still have good days and bad days where their need for support can fluctuate. At the same time, you will need to be flexible with yourself as well.
Help Them Set Realistic Goals
Living an active lifestyle is important for your loved one’s physical and mental health. While some symptoms of MS can make this a challenge from time to time, this doesn’t mean that your loved one can’t still be active. However, you may need to help them be realistic about both their abilities and limitations. This could mean that you might need to encourage them to exercise in a swimming pool instead of going for a jog. There are also specialized exercise classes for people with MS that you could recommend. Overall, you want to support their ability to live an active lifestyle in a way that is safe and beneficial to them.
Dr. Kashouty, a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), practices general neurology with fellowship trained specialization in clinical neurophysiology. Dr. Kashouty finds the form and function of the nerves and muscles the most interesting part of neurology, which is what led him to specialize in neurophysiology with more emphasis on neuromuscular conditions. He treats all neurological diseases, but his main focus is to treat and manage headaches, movement disorders and neuromuscular diseases.