By Nyaka Mwanza
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system. MS damages nerve fibers, disrupting communication between the central nervous system and the rest of the body. MS is an unpredictable disease, but one thing you can count on with MS is that life will change. Family members and friends will also experience MS-related life changes.
A strong social support system is a vital part of managing MS symptoms and disease progression. It can be difficult watching a loved one experience pain and manage the many uncomfortable symptoms that come with MS. Here are three ways you can help a loved one face the challenges of MS.
The more you can learn about MS, the better equipped you will feel when dealing with the challenges MS can present. Knowledge is power — particularly when it comes to supporting someone who has MS.
MS is a complex disorder; there’s a lot to learn. The list of possible symptoms of MS is long. The MS hug is one of many types of nerve pain unique to multiple sclerosis. Knowing the possible symptoms of MS can help you recognize them, respond to them, and better lend someone your support.
Each person’s MS experience is as unique as they are; there is no standard. The best way to learn what your loved one is going through is to ask them. Understanding the specifics of a person’s disease progression and lived MS experience will enable you to offer support that meets their needs. It will also help them feel heard, seen, and understood.
Anger, frustration, and even grief are common emotions when dealing with a chronic illness. When you’re stressed and things are out of your control, patience can be in short supply. Remember that your loved one is likely experiencing a whirlwind of emotions as they deal with the unpredictable symptoms of their MS. Be patient with them and with yourself as their partner, friend, or caregiver.
Because MS affects the central nervous symptom, its cognitive symptoms can impact various brain functions. Cognitive symptoms of MS may include trouble processing and understanding information, forgetfulness, and problems concentrating or paying attention. For a person with MS, cognitive symptoms could have a big impact on their quality of life — including the ability to work, meet career goals, or attend school.
More than two-thirds of people with MS say cognitive symptoms have influenced their social life and their interpersonal relationships with family, friends, and partners. For example, a person with MS may forget something you just told them — but not because they weren’t listening or don’t care what you said. Behavioral and mood changes are often a part of life with multiple sclerosis as well.
Depending on how much a person’s MS progresses, they may require support walking, driving, cooking, or cleaning. Loss of independence and the ability to perform day-to-day activities as they once did can be one of the biggest challenges of adjusting to life with MS. Offer to help fold laundry, meal prep for the week, or drive them to a health care appointment. The gesture could have a bigger impact than you know, and it is a reminder that they can count on you.
Self-care is an important aspect of supporting someone living with MS. You can’t take care of someone if you aren’t taking care of yourself. You have needs: emotional support, stress relief, human connection. Ignoring your needs can leave you without the capacity to give the sort of support you want to and your loved one with MS needs. Taking care of yourself — asking for help, joining a support group, seeing a therapist — will make you a better, more consistent MS care partner.
Nyaka Mwanza is a freelance writer for MyHealthTeams. She completed a B.A. in Communications: Visual Media from American University and undertook post-baccalaureate studies in Health/Behavioral Communications and Marketing at Johns Hopkins University. Nyaka is a Zambian-born, E.U. citizen who was raised in sub-Saharan Africa and Jacksonville, N.C. However, she has called Washington, D.C., home for most of her life. For much of her career, Nyaka has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Nyaka believes words hold immense power, and her job is to meet the reader where they are, when they’re there.
- 6 Ways You Can Support Someone With Multiple Sclerosis — Self
- A Guide for Support Partners — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- Coping With Change: Living Well with Multiple Sclerosis — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- For Family Members of Someone Newly Diagnosed with MS — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- Maintaining Healthy Relationships — National Multiple Sclerosis Society