March is National Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month. Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease of the central nervous system (CNS), which is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. MS is an autoimmune disorder that evolves slowly, causing the destruction of myelin, the insulating material that surrounds nerve fibers (neurons). Myelin helps electrical signals pass quickly and smoothly between the brain and the rest of the body. When the myelin layer is destroyed, nerve messages are sent more slowly and less efficiently. The symptoms of MS occur when the brain and spinal cord nerves no longer communicate properly with other parts of the body. MS causes a wide variety of symptoms and can affect vision, balance, strength, sensation, coordination, and bodily functions[i].
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, more than 400,000 people in the United States have MS. An estimated 2.5 million around the world also suffer from the disease.
As part of Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month, Health Advocate, Inc. offers the following tips on how to support a friend or loved one who has MS.
– Educate yourself. Familiarizing yourself with the physiological, emotional and cognitive symptoms of the disease will help you support friends and family facing the illness. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation offer educational materials, online caregiver communities and updates on treatment research.
– Be emotionally supportive. It may be difficult for a friend or loved one who has MS to ask for help. If you are able, and with their permission, quietly take on a few of their daily tasks like laundry, cleaning or errands.
– Support your loved one as they adapt. Although many people living with MS can remain independent for a long time, some people may lose physical and cognitive abilities. Establish new ways of “doing life.” Adaptation could mean family members taking over some daily responsibilities or the patient utilizing assistive devices to simplify tasks. Support your loved ones who are struggling with a loss of independence. Encourage them to accept and embrace life in every way they are able.
– When possible, break out of the daily routine. Set aside some time to do fun activities together, like eating at a favorite restaurant, walking in the park, and going on fun outings, such as visiting a museum or going out to see a play or sports game. Make sure to tailor these activities to your loved one’s abilities and interests.
If you have access to an advocacy service like Health Advocate and you need to find more information about MS, call your Personal Health Advocate, who can direct you to the appropriate resources, such as support groups, local chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society or Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, and more.
[i]“Multiple sclerosis.” Genevieve T. Slomski, Ph.D. and Tish Davidson, A.M. The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Ed. Jacqueline L. Longe. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale, Online update, 2007. 5 vols. Updated October 2009. Health & Wellness Resource Center. Gale. March 22, 2011.