Ageing and MS

Ageing, a word that makes us cringe. 

Decline, another word that grabs you by the throat.

With a diagnosis like MS, our priorities of trying to achieve utter physical beauty sometimes takes a backseat, and instead we start worrying about how well MS will treat us as we get older. While many of us are not that worried anymore about sagging physical parts, ageing does pose a lot of questions, especially since ageing and MS go hand in hand. 

Because approximately 85% of people are diagnosed with relapsing/remitting MS, the possibility exists that their illness will gradually turn into the progressive stage. Added to this, ageing and MS have overlapping symptoms, like balance, memory or muscle weakness issues.

True, ageing is a challenge, as is life with MS. Combined, they are hard to stomach. You might wonder what your quality of life will be. Living independently or in long-term care, afraid of increased mobility issues, of asking for assistance and/or becoming a burden, anxiety… these are all questions we quietly live with. 

However, there are ways we can ward off the pitfalls of ageing.

As challenging as life with MS is in whichever stage of the illness you find yourself, trying to stay physically and mentally active is key. Ageing well with a physical disability will see you reap rewards if you have an achievable exercise plan in place. Even slow and relaxed exercise is the start of a continuous circle that will not only help you improve strength and mobility, but it will lower your fatigue levels as well as raise your self-esteem, mood and prevent weight gain. Exercise will also see you obtain better cardiovascular and continence issues.

Ageing does not have to lead to depression. On the contrary, many elderly people live fulfilled lives and can achieve goals they perhaps never thought of when hearing the word ‘ageing’. In fact, I recently wrote a post on my own blog called ‘Use It Or Lose It!’ about cognitive decline, as I found that the more you use your brain, the better life becomes.

Needless to say, it might take some time before you see those rewards, but do not be discouraged if or when you don’t see results straightaway. What is important is to keep trying, and keep that exercise plan rolling. Contact your GP, MS Nurse or Physiotherapist if need be to readjust your goals. Any exercise is better than no exercise (if you want more information on ageing, physical disability and exercising, here is an excellent website).

But, ageing is not about exercising only. Family life, grey hair, hobbies, perhaps a few more hours at work, coping with adversity, looking after your own wellbeing… it’s an important part of how to age as gracefully as possible. 

Balancing life and an unpredictable illness is a hard act, but it’s good to remember that while chronic MS is not a terminal or fatal illness. In fact, a 2015 study in Neurology found that in data used from Canada showed that, “People with MS had a median life span of 75.9 years, while people without MS had a median survival of 83.4 years.” 

My view? I am an expert-patient of myself today, but by the time, I reach 60 I will more than likely have achieved a doctorate in how to live well with MS. 

Further reading

Please don't forget to check out Willeke's blog Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis and Me if you want to read more.