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Multiple Sclerosis Care: What Causes Multiple Sclerosis in the Elderly?

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis, commonly known as MS, is a long-term autoimmune condition that affects the central nervous system. MS occurs when there is an error in the body’s immune system. The immune system attacks the myelin sheath, which is the part of the body that forms a protective layer around the nerves of the brain and the spinal cord, causing it to become damaged and inflamed.

These areas of inflammation interfere with messages travelling along the nervous system, meaning that signals travel more slowly, are sent the wrong way, or are blocked completely.

MS is a degenerative condition, which can lead to permanent damage to the nerves, resulting in physical disability.

While people with MS tend to have a slightly reduced life expectancy, modern therapies and care mean that the condition is rarely fatal.

What are the symptoms of MS?

There are a wide variety of symptoms for MS, and everyone diagnosed with the condition is affected differently. Some of the more common symptoms are:

– Pain and fatigue

– Difficulties with speech and swallowing

– Numbness or tingling (commonly in the face, body and legs)

– Spasms (particularly in the legs) and muscular weakness

– Bladder and bowel dysfunction

– Vision problems and dizziness

– Cognitive difficulties and clinical depression or anxiety

What causes MS in the elderly?

Diagnosis of MS usually happens between the ages of 20 and 30, but it can develop at any age. For reasons that are not yet clear, women appear to be 2-3 times more susceptible to the condition than men.

While the exact causes of MS are not known, the latest research indicates that certain people may have a genetic make-up that predisposes them to develop MS or certain environmental factors. However, the interplay between genetics and external triggers are not yet fully understood.

Colin and Dulcie’s story

Dulcie is 102-years-old and lives with her son Colin, his wife Mary, and her Carer Sarah. She has dementia and has had full-time live-in care for over two years.

We talk to the family about the challenges of finding the right care solution for a fiercely independent woman – and how the positive benefits of live-in care with Sarah has transformed all of their lives.

Living with Live in Care: Dulcie's Story

Other potential causes of MS

Viral infections

Researchers are investigating a theory that some viruses may trigger MS. The focus of the latest research is on the Epstein Barr virus (which causes glandular fever), on the basis that contact with the virus may increase the risk of developing MS. Further research is required to understand whether the virus causes MS directly.

Vitamin D deficiency

MS appears to be more common in areas further from the equator, where there is greater variation in natural sunlight. Vitamin D is required to maintain a healthy immune system. Some research suggests that a lack of exposure to sunlight, leading to a vitamin D deficiency may be a cause of MS.


While there is a recognised link between smoking and an increased risk of developing MS, the exact interplay between the two is not yet fully understood.

Researchers believe that the harmful ingredients in cigarette smoke affect the blood-brain barrier, which then interferes with the immune system’s ability to differentiate between healthy and damaged cells. Meaning those who smoke are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with MS.

It’s important to know that smoking exacerbates the symptoms of MS and can speed up the progression of the condition. If your loved one is a smoker and has been diagnosed with MS, it is vital to encourage them to quit.


There appears to be a strong link between obesity and MS, especially in women, and the reasons for this relationship remain unclear. It is believed that excess fatty tissue causes inflammation in the body, and it also affects the body’s ability to use vitamin D effectively, thereby acting as a trigger for MS.

Caring for a loved one with MS

The symptoms of MS can be unpredictable and may vary over time. Depending on the type of MS your loved one is diagnosed with, symptoms may alternatively worsen and improve (Relapsing and Remitting MS), or develop and steadily worsen over time (Primary Progressive MS).

While it is possible to treat the symptoms of MS, there is currently no cure for the condition, so a personalised approach to multiple sclerosis care is essential to ensure that your loved one can continue to live a full and productive life.

As part of your loved one’s multiple sclerosis care plan, you may choose to use an elderly care service. A specialist elderly and dementia care service provider, such as Elder, can provide private care to your loved one in the familiarity of their own home.

Your loved one will receive home care from a trained carer not only in a physical and medical sense but in the context of emotional support and companionship as well.

This is especially important if your loved one or relative is unable to leave their home due to the physical disability caused by MS, or you are not able to visit them often. In addition, full-time live-in care ensures that someone is on hand at all times to assist your loved one, which is particularly important as their symptoms worsen.

Call us for expert live-in care advice

While the causes of MS are still unknown, with a personalised multiple sclerosis care plan you can help ensure your loved one’s symptoms are carefully managed.

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