Distinguishing Symptoms of Aging and Symptoms of MS

Vicki Health Guide
  • People with MS are now experiencing longer life expectancies. Aging MSers are creating a group of patients who were infrequently encountered just a few years ago.

    Elderly patients who live with MS have few or no known treatment options. When doctors, nurses, and caregivers encounter patients facing problems with sleep, incontinence and double-vision, they must determine if the problems are because of aging or caused by MS. In some cases it matters, and this new patient group means new considerations are needed for treating elderly people with MS and providing a good quality of life.

    In spring 2000, Suzanne Rogers tells us In Living that her MS taught her about choices in these areas: exercise, good health, an active mind, goals, and outlook, with creativity and innovation added
    as we age. These are good things to consider.

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    Having MS is no guarantee against having other chronic conditions, and it certainly does not guard against
    advancing age. Making a choice to be aware of our health is beneficial when the same problems that haunt many older people are added to the MS symptoms.

    Let's look at a few specific examples:


    • MS brings with it the possibility of vision problems such as optic neuritis, blurry vision, small floating specs, seemingly erratic eye movement, and diplopia. Let's explore a couple of these symptoms in light of advancing MS with advancing age.
    • Optic neuritis first seen in the 20-45 age range usually means it is caused by MS. In patients older than age 50 years, optic neuritis is less common and may be mistaken for ischemis optic neuropathy which is more common in this age group. Because it is less common in old age and often misdiagnosed, there is little information to tell if there is a difference when an older person has MS.
    • Diplopia or double vision occurs more often in MS than in old age, and there is little information to tell us if it is a greater problem when an older person with advanced MS has double vision. MSers often have years of experience dealing with bouts of diplopia.

    Medical Orthopedics

    • Elderly patients with MS often suffer from progressive medical orthopedics. When a person with MS has osteoporosis, both the MS and the osteoporosis advance faster, leaving the patient open to aches, stiffness and fractures.


    • MS patients know that continuing movement is important for continued agility and health. Whether an MSer is able to move on his own or is dependent on passive movement exercises, there are balance problems in standing or sitting positions.


    • Tonic spasms that cause sudden and sometimes sharp movements, may be misinterpreted by caregivers as anger. Compassionate carers are understanding of the types of spasms, gestures and movements.


    • Older patients with MS often have both urinary and bowel incontinence. It is often more intense than in older people who do not have MS, causing more frequent urination and discomfort. Again, there is a need for more research.


    • The medical team has experience with pain in older people that can be treated with Tylenol-types of pain killers. However, excruciating neuropathic pain common in MS cannot be effectively treated using standard pain relievers. Instead, other medications such as anti-convulsants are required to make an effective difference in MS pain.

    These are only some of the symptoms experienced by both MS patients and people of advanced age. As a person with MS ages and experiences those changes that go along with old age, how does the medical team know if the change is due to aging or advancing MS? MSers who make the choice to be aware of their body may be able to provide enough information.

    Clearly, the research and communications about symptoms of aging MSers is important and affects a rapidly growing population. This knowledge may make the difference in successful treatments. Sometimes the symptom itself tells how to handle it. However, there are times the cause of the symptom defines the treatment.

    Notes and Links:
    An Expert Looks at MS
    Aging with MS

    Symptoms of old age

Published On: December 16, 2009