Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease for which no cure has yet been found. Although we have treatments to manage the disease course, they are only partially effective, which means that some people’s MS will worsen in spite of everything they and their doctors do to try and prevent it.
Many people ask themselves “Why did this happen?” (Did I choose the wrong doctor or the wrong medication…did I follow the wrong diet or the wrong exercise program…did I get too stressed out at my job?). But the fact is, MS progresses because that is the natural course of the disease.
While researchers are working to identify new and better strategies to stop that progression, people whose MS has become more disabling—and their family members and friends—need information about how to manage the challenges they face.
Planning for the Future
Although MS is a progressive disease, the rate of progression differs from one person to another. The hallmark of MS is its unpredictability—which means that the doctor can’t predict with any certainty how far or fast a person’s MS is going to progress or what the outcome is likely to be. However, there are some factors that seem to suggest a better or worse prognosis. Taking these factors into account can help you and your family plan more effectively for the future.
The key message to anyone living with advanced MS is that there is always more that can be done to make the situation better. If your doctor has “nothing more to offer,” it’s time to find another doctor (.pdf) - who will partner with you and other members of the healthcare team to manage your symptoms and maintain your quality of life. The National MS Society (1-800-344-4867) can recommend healthcare professionals with knowledge and competency in MS care, as well as other resources in your area.
Learning to Redefine Control and Independence
Sometimes MS symptoms can progress to the point that they significantly interfere with daily activities. Changes like this can threaten your self-confidence and feelings of self-worth. When this happens, remember that maintaining control and independence in everyday life doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything the same way you did it before.
By allowing yourself to do things differently, you gain access to the world of assistive technology (AT)—an array of energy- and labor-saving tools and devices that allow you to stay active and productive. Rehabilitation professionals can help you navigate the world of AT and suggest ways to modify your environment at home and at work to optimize control and independence.
Dealing with Emotional Ups and Downs
Depression and other mood changes are common in MS, and grief is a normal reaction to the changes and losses that can accompany advanced MS. Getting the support you need to deal with these emotional challenges is essential to maintaining your quality of life.
People with more advanced MS are at greater risk for certain kinds of complications. Examples include:
- Osteoporosis (loss of bone density related to reduced mobility and weight-bearing exercise, as well as treatment with corticosteroids);
- Pressure sores (damage to the skin caused by lack of mobility or long hours in a bed or wheelchair);
- Aspiration pneumonia (a problem caused by swallowing problems that allow food particles in to the lungs);
- Severe bladder or kidney infections (resulting from chronic urinary dysfunction).
To reduce your risk of complications, schedule regular check-ups with your MS doctor and report any unusual fevers or changes in your symptoms.
Meeting Caregiver Challenges
Providing ongoing care and emotional support for someone with advanced MS is not easy—no matter how much one cares about that person. For many, it can begin to feel like a full-time job. Paying attention to your own health and well-being is essential to being able to do it for someone else. Learn more about the resources that are available to help you in your caregiving role.