According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is one of the most commonly occurring neurological diseases, impacting roughly 400,000 Americans. This means that hundreds of thousands of Americans are also primary caregivers to loved ones living with MS. When a loved one is diagnosed with MS, a lot of things in your life will change. But these changes don’t have to be devastating. With a proper understanding of the condition and a clear sense of how to manage its many uncertainties, you and your loved one can still make the most out of life. Take the steps outlined here to help alleviate the symptoms of MS for your loved and reduce the burden on yourself:
Know the Symptoms
Multiple Sclerosis is a condition where inflammation occurs in the brain or spinal cord, leading to a wide array of symptoms. These symptoms may emerge and recede with little warning. As the caregiver for one living with MS, you should know how to recognize signs of an impending or mounting episode. The Family Caregiver Alliance identifies an array of symptoms that may occur in isolation or in combination with one another. These may include:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of balance
- Poor coordination
- Slurred speech
- Extreme fatigue
- Impaired cognition
- Memory loss
Adapt Your Environment
Once you understand the symptoms, you should alter the environment of your home in order to accommodate them. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers some suggestions on how to make simple changes in your home that can help your loved one retain a measure independence:
- Reduce Clutter: Get rid of things you don’t need and organize the things you do need. This is a great opportunity to get your home in order because the ease of finding everyday household items is not just a matter of convenience for somebody living with MS. It can spare your loved one precious energy, exertion and effort.
- Improve Accessibility: Place things where your loved one can reach them. It’s time to make adjustments in your storage solutions, especially if your loved one is confined to a wheelchair. Make sure important household items that must be accessed on a day-to-day basis are in easy to find, easy to reach and easy to store places.
- Achieve Usability: Where possible, you’ll want to make some strategic changes in layout and functionality. Things like light switches, telephones and bathroom or kitchen appliances should be relocated or rigged for safe and ease-of-use. You may also find it sensible to rearrange your furniture to ensure sufficient space for maneuvering with a cane, walker or wheelchair.
Understand the Responsibilities
As the primary caregiver, you have the important job of ensuring that a treatment plan is adhered to. This will typically include assistance with the following:
- Administration of medication
- Assistance in/Transportation to physical therapy
- Development/Implementation of an emergency plan
- Regular contact with primary physician and specialists
Take Care of Yourself!
As with any caregiving responsibility, you must be sure to take time out for your needs too. Caregiver burden comes at a physical and emotional toll. Because of the uncertainty of the condition, this is doubly true of MS. Medscape reports that “eighty percent of MS caregivers reported that the demands placed on their time interfered with obligations to family and friends or with their career.” In order to help your loved one make the most out of life, you need to be at your best. This means that you have to set aside time for rest, relationships and responsibilities outside of the caregiving role. Living with Multiple Sclerosis is never easy. But with the right understanding of the condition, you can find ways to improve the comfort, health and happiness of a loved one.