How Age Affects Multiple Sclerosis

Vicki Health Guide
  • There are 400,000 MSers in the U.S. In 2004, approximately 45% of them were over 55.  A Population Tsunami is predicted over the next four decades and there is no reason to believe the number of MSers will not continue to grow proportionally with the general population.It is inevitable that MS will be a large factor in the older population.

    MS does not significantly change life expectancy. About 90% of people who were diagnosed with MS in their twenties live with it fifty years. Therefore, an increasing number of people will be Senior Citizens as well as MSers. As MS and aging progress together, people dealing with age-related issues may be dealing with increasing MS symptoms at the same time.

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    Most people are diagnosed with relapsing/remitting MS. Usually by the time they become senior citizens, their symptoms have advanced to secondary progressive, gradually progressing and no longer remitting.

    Aging and MS are related. Many health issues that people experience during their senior years — changes in energy, fatigue, sleep patterns, diet, general well-being — can also be caused by MS. If it is known to be caused by MS, there may be known treatments that will help, or it may provide more information toward understanding this chronic condition.

    It is always a challenge living with MS, and a greater challenge growing old with MS. What is it that most concerns older MSers? How do we deal with aging-MS issues? More research is needed on attitudes, fears, or health issues of older people with MS to know the answers and find the solutions. It may be surprising.

    People with MS are known to have different symptoms with differing levels of intensity for each of them. It is quite individual, and that doesn't change with age.

    Aging MSers often experience significant disabilities that interfere when performing basic, daily tasks of self-care. There are mobility problems and the need to keep living arrangements clean and actually livable. Most desire to work outside the home or participate in leisure and recreational activities. To accomplish these activities may require assistance devices such as walking aids, scooters, or driving aids. There may need to be caregivers to help with daily activities for those who cannot function, and medical services and personnel to develop and execute treatment programs.

    During the time that MSers are requiring more assistance for everyday life, they are facing significant disabilities at accelerated rates. Although elderly MSers do experience certain conditions more often than older people without MS, such as incontinence and urinary tract infections, they are less likely to have heart attacks or lung disease compared to their age- and sex-matched peers without MS.

    MSers are concerned about becoming a burden on caregivers, family, or friends, or moving into assisted-living residences or nursing homes. Concern extends to psychological, emotional and financial issues. Many of these anxieties sound similar or even the same as those of all older people. The MS community feels particular apprehension because they are facing these things with greater levels of disability.


  • How can MSers cope better with aging? I have read that MS symptoms have a tendency to subside after 50. I am 60 and still have new events, so it must not be true for everyone. Dr. Stanley van den Noort puts that age when MS seems to disappear at 70, saying there is not as much MS-related worsening after that. He does remind us, though, that MS is unpredictable.

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    Older people with MS are often relaxed, not bothered by a "younger person's" worries of job loss and facing changes in finances and social roles. Dr. van den Noort says, "From what I see, I think people with MS do better with what aging brings them than healthy people who have never faced living with a functional deficit." By the time we are elderly, we can be considered survivors. Years of experience coping has let us become "experts at working around limitations."

    The real problem may be that there is little research about older MSers. There are few services designed to target specific needs of older MSers, largely because we do not know what they are and how they differ. There are questions to be asked and solutions to be found.

    The thing is, old age may not be pleasant for anyone, but the more we know, the more prepared we can be.

    This is the beginning of a series of articles about aging with MS, living as experts and survivors. This series is specifically about MSers who reach their "golden years." This will be a very short series, covering Problems with Mobility, Problems with Cognition, and the Medical Community's Ability to Respond.


    The spiritual eyesight improves as the physical eyesight declines.

                                                                    ~ Plato


    Notes and Links:
    Helping Older Patients with Multiple Sclerosis
    Aging with Multiple Sclerosis
    An Expert Looks at Aging

Published On: December 02, 2009