A study published in 2015 noted that because of newer medications and treatments, those with multiple sclerosis are capable of living longer than in the past and on average just a few years less than those without the disease.
Although everyone who ages experiences muscle loss, loss of bone density and brain volume, those with MS have higher rates of loss, so that aging compounds the symptoms of the disease. With one in 10 people with MS now over the age of 65, it is important to be armed with information going forward in order to make reasonable lifestyle decisions to age well.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis are variable at any age, but 80 percent of all people with relapsing-remitting MS eventually advance to the secondary- progressive form of the disease. People over the age of 55 are more likely, therefore, to have the secondary- progressive form and also to have a greater level of significant disabilities that require caretakers and health care professionals’ assistance.
Most of the issues with older people who have MS involve memory problems, fatigue, lack of endurance, trouble walking, and lack of strength. Obviously, the lines between “normal” aging and growing older with MS can become blurred.
Some of the other symptoms of MS include vision changes, cognitive impairment, balance issues, reduced sensation, alterations in bowel and bladder function, and depression and anxiety. There are clues, however, to help distinguish the differences between manifestations of MS and normal age-related changes.
Optic Neuritis is associated with MS. It usually occurs in only one eye and can be painful when the eye moves. Presbyopia which is a gradual loss of the eyes’ ability to focus on nearby objects is associated with aging, is painless, affects both eyes and can be corrected with glasses.
Both conditions cause blurry vision. Cognitive impairment occurs in older people usually as a mild memory lapse. However, in those with MS, the cognitive problem is the speed of processing new information rather than memory lapses.
Sarcopenia is loss of muscle mass associated with aging and even if you are active, the loss begins around 30 years of age and accelerates around age 75. In sarcopenia, muscle loss adds stress unto the joints and increases the risk of arthritis or falling.
The problem is compounded for those with MS because the motor nerve cells that innervate the muscles fire slowly. Strategic resistance exercise is the best treatment both for those with MS and for those with sarcopenia in order to keep as strong as possible.
Balance relies on sensation, motor control and strength, all three of which are compromised with MS and the aging process. Experts on MS note that if the balance changes are abrupt it is likely due to MS whereas, if the balance changes come on slowly it is more indicative of age related issues. Both situations require strength, and balance training to ward off falls and subsequent broken bones.
Fatigue is reported by 80 percent of people with MS and is quite severe even with limited exertion. Fatigue tends to become worse in those with MS as they age, and can interfere with simple daily activities. Another sign of MS is altered nerve impulses that reduce the sense of touch in the face, body and limbs. Heat seems to magnify the symptoms of both fatigue and numbness in those with MS.
Bowel and bladder issues plague older people and those with MS have the added issues of delayed nerve signal transmission along the central nervous system which can lead to incontinence. Certain exercises can help with these weaknesses, as can modification to fluid and food intake.
This is a serious issue for many older people and one that should be discussed with healthcare providers, because it can lead to embarrassment and a decline in social activities and a decline in mental health. Depression and anxiety are common health issues for those with MS and for older people in general.
Untreated depression and anxiety are major health issues and must be addressed because they influence other decisions that are made concerning one’s lifestyle and health.
Jane Riley is a certified personal trainer, adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (808) 212-8119 and www.janerileyfitness.com