Approximately 25% of people with MS are 65 and older. The average older person with MS has been diagnosed for 20 years and is more likely to have a progressive form of MS. However, older individuals are less likely to have a regular MS care provider. In addition to MS symptoms, older individuals experience the typical changes associated with aging, which include having more physical health conditions, fatigue, weakness, pain, cognitive difficulties and need for assistance with activities of daily living. Despite this, there are a variety of strategies for healthy aging that are recommended. General strategies for healthy aging include: eating a healthy diet to reduce risk of diabetes and osteoporosis and maintain healthy cholesterol levels, exercising to reduce risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, and maintain strength and mobility, getting adequate sleep, and getting regular check-ups. Older individuals with MS should also maintain a relationship with an MS care specialist and pay special attention to fall prevention.
Mental health and cognitive problems are not uncommon in older individuals with MS. Depression is particularly common in those with more impairment in mobility and cognitive problems. However, older individuals are less likely to report mental health problems--it is important to be aware of and report any symptoms to your physician.
Despite these changes, many older individuals with MS report that quality of life and mental health are as good as those of younger individuals with MS. Some report that accepting aging is easier for people with MS because they are now more on par with peers who are also aging. Those who report better quality of life tend to be more receptive to using assistive devices, pace themselves and accept support from others to enhance mobility and socialization. Many also indicate that quality of life is improved by reprioritizing what is important, spending more time with family and friends, and giving back to others in some way.
While we can’t predict the future, we can be proactive. In addition to utilizing these strategies to maintain your health, it may be useful to consider planning for care and discussing end of life issues so that future needs can be met in the best way possible.