Being a caregiver for any senior may prove to be difficult and incredibly stressful. However, if your elderly loved one suffers from a neurodegenerative disorder such as multiple sclerosis (MS) then the challenges you face on a daily basis may be heightened. Caring for seniors who suffer from MS can be hard for both your loved one and you. MS is a degenerative disorder that is characterized by the loss of muscle control and function. Depending on how severe your loved one case is, they may have issues with mobility, talking, feeding themselves and finishing everyday routines such as personal care. However, your loved one may also only be in the beginning stages of their disease and not necessitate that much help. No matter where your loved one’s disease process is, the emotional toll of having MS may catch up with them and cause them to be moody, grouchy and upset. Dealing with your loved one’s emotions may leave you feeling a little upset yourself. If your elderly loved one is dealing with MS and needs help, then here are a few things you should know about being their caregiver.
Caregivers who care for patients with MS need to know a few things before they begin their job. If you are already a caregiver, are starting soon, or simply have an elderly loved one with MS and want to learn more about their care then it is essential that you know a bit about the disease. MS is an immune-mediated disease that targets the myelin sheaths along the central nervous system. Your central system is comprised of your spinal cord and your brain. It allows your body to function properly, think and move without hesitation. Each individual nerve throughout your central nervous system is covered in conductive material known as myelin. This material allows nerve impulses to travel quickly from your brain or spine to the rest of your body, which allows you to function properly. In patients with MS, their myelin sheaths are degraded, and lesions pop up on their nerves. This causes interruptions and delays to occur in the communication between nerves, which causes a delay or a loss of function. Patients with spinal lesions tend to have loss of movement and muscle control, while patients with lesions in their brain may have issues thinking or talking. However, it is completely dependent on the localized area of the lesion what function or ability will be affected. MS is often progressive and can have bouts of remission and relapse. During relapsing periods, patients often feel extremely fatigued and may see an extreme loss of function. During remission periods, patients often regain most of their functions, but may still need help with everyday tasks. To help your elderly loved one who suffers from MS, it is essential that you ask them about what kind of help they may need. If your loved one is not very far along in their disease then they may not need much care, but if their disease has progressed they may need help with a large variety of tasks.
Since MS can attack the entire spinal cord and the brain it can present itself very differently from patient to patient. Some patients may have issues with mobility, while others may simply have issues thinking properly during times of stress. Some patients may also experience issues with walking, while others may move around fine on their own. Since maintaining a certain level of independence is often important to your loved one, it is best if you arrange their home and surroundings with self-reliance in mind. No matter where your loved one lives, it is a great idea to re-arrange their home in a manner that allows them to be the safest at all times, but also allows them to do things for themselves. For example, if your loved one has issues walking, but can still use a cane to get around, then they may really enjoy a mini refrigerator in their room. That way they can use their cane to walk the short distance to the fridge and grab their favorite drink. A completely bed-bound senior may enjoy a television in their room and frequent snacks, drinks and entertainment options in arms-reach of their bed. If your loved one can still walk on their own just fine, then it is a good idea to move knick knacks, rugs, and decorations away from the floor so they always have a clear walking path through their home.
Personal care such as meal preparation and hygiene routines may become your responsibility as the primary caregiver. For mealtimes, it is essential that your loved one eats a healthy diet rich in nutrients, healthy fats and protein. Often patients with MS are deficient in vitamins D and B12, Selenium, Calcium and Zinc so it is a good idea to incorporate foods that are rich in these nutrients into their diets. Patients with MS may also have difficulty swallowing, have issues maintaining their weight, be at risk for low bone density, and may find it difficult to eat properly due to tremors in their hands. If your senior suffers from any of these issues, then you may have to adapt their meals to fit their needs.
Hygiene is also important for your loved one. To determine if your loved one needs help with their personal hygiene routine, simply ask them. They may feel embarrassed at first, but if you keep an open line of communication with them, then they will begin to feel comfortable enough to ask you for your help. You may only need to get them a few hygiene aids, like modified sponges or install bars in their shower for them to be able to complete their own personal hygiene routine. However, you may also need to help them immensely if they are bed-bound or not very mobile.
Patients with MS often take a great number of medications in order to combat their disease. As their caregiver, it may fall on you to learn about each of their medications and dispense them properly. To do so, go with them to a doctor’s appointment and ask any questions you may have about their medications. Their doctor or nurse can fill you on all of your loved one’s medications and give you tips on how to organize them and dispense them.
Taking care of a loved one with MS may prove to be difficult at times. However, with these considerations in mind, you and your loved one can conquer the art of caregiving. Always keep an open line of communication open with your loved one, and both their life and yours will be a lot easier.
Here are more articles in our home care blog about Multiple Sclerosis