It is almost certainly my own advancing years that have prompted this line of blogging but, ageing, it turns out, is a complex process. It is no wonder that so many of us get it wrong. Is ageing with Multiple Sclerosis any different?
The ageing process can be traced to the cellular level or even to our DNA. Our cells normally die and get replaced as a normal part of growth. But, the process of cell rebirth is not perfect and is prone to failure. Errors in the cell replacement process cause some cells to be faulty or deformed.
So, slowly but surely, our bodies are falling apart. And no amount of superfood or clean living is going to prevent it.
So, while we may yearn for immortality and seek magic foods that will help us on this road. We are, unfortunately, doomed to failure.
Add into this mix, the imperfection of our diets and you can understand why this process we call life is so full of pitfalls. I have been trawling through a number of Pinterest boards and keep encountering recipes for longevity soup.
What is this miraculous brew? I really had to find out and start to make plans to emigrate to Italy.
Traditionally, the Sardinian soup called s’erbuzzu is jammed with wild herbs and greens—sometimes more than 17 varieties. And with both fregola (a pea-like Sardinian pasta) and white beans in the mix. The soup is as hearty and starchy as it is herbal.
Ageing with Multiple Sclerosis
For our purposes, we narrowed the list of herbs and greens to those we felt had the most impact. Parsley for grassiness, tarragon for sweet anise notes and arugula for pepperiness. We also use pancetta to build savoury backbone and ricotta salata cheese, as Sardinians do, for complexity.
However, what has all this got to do with ageing with Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is often thought of as a disease of young people. And true most of us are in our 20s or 30s when the MonSter strikes. But, all of us 20 somethings or 30 somethings will age. With a bit of luck, we will grow to a ripe old age.
As I write this article, I am 63 years young and my mother, who also has MS, is 87. Ageing is never easy but, ageing with multiple sclerosis is even more complicated.
I found a fascinating article on Multiple sclerosis and Ageing on multiplesclerosis.net.
In a speech given by Mary Anne Picone, MD to the annual Consortium for MS Centers meeting in May. We learn that the ageing process and multiple sclerosis have a lot in common.
She tells us that “there are approximately 225-350,000 patients older than age 65 living with MS around the world.”. You will recall from my earlier confession, that I am not quite in this bracket yet.
We are asked if “we are ageing with disability, or gaining disability with age?” This has perplexed me for many years. Are my health problems caused by MS or by my growing age?
I further complicate this by the near certainty that I aged by 10 years the moment I was diagnosed.
Symptoms of Age-related Diseases
Multiple Sclerosis is often thought of as a young person’s disease. But, improvements in medical care mean that many of us have had MS for many years. And many of us are no longer young people.
“Are we ageing with a disability or are we gaining disability by ageing?”Dr Picone
So, are the myriad of problems we develop over the years caused by MS. Or are they a product of getting older?
Take a look at the following list and ask yourself if each is an MS symptom or an ageing limitation.
- Sensory deficits
- Visual Impairment
- Balance/coordination problems
- Heat intolerance
- Bowel dysfunction
- Bladder dysfunction
The reality is that each of these symptoms can manifest with multiple sclerosis and old age.
But, is the health care we need for these symptoms different depending upon whether we see a Neurologist or a Geriatrician?
It may be that an MRI could provide the answer but, it seems normal ageing and MS ‘both have demyelination and grey matter atrophy.
Getting old is inevitable
To further complicate any differentiation, ageing and MS looks pretty similar in cognitive function, as well. That might include slowed information processing, difficulty with concentration, short term memory problems and trouble with executive functioning including planning and organizing.
From DNA damage to cellular miscommunication, ageing is a mysterious and multifarious process.
Getting old is a fact of life but some of us do it better than others.
However, rather than relying on brain scans to try and tell us if our symptoms relate to age or MS, we may do better to look at the eyes.
Living a long life
I used to have perfectly good eyesight before MS raised its ugly head. Now, I am as blind as a bat. I should be cautious with my words. I am not blind, my eyesight is just very poor.
Visual deficits can give a better idea of the underlying problem. MS is associated with optic neuritis and nystagmus whereas the elderly tend to have cataracts, presbyopia, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
From purely personal observation, I have optic neuritis which ebbs and flows in concert with my MS relapses and remissions. This suggests to me that the damage to my optic nerve is not permanent. It is healing and being attacked by the MS disease activity when it is active.
Sadly, bladder problems affect the MSer and the elderly in equal measure. Problems with urinary frequency, incontinence, hesitancy, retention and nocturia affect both groups in the same embarrassing way.
Another common problem in ageing with multiple sclerosis is heat sensitivity. People with MS and the elderly have problems in regulating their body temperatures which is a function of the autonomic nervous system.
We have problems with our bodies overheating at the same time as being very susceptible to the cold. It is not a happy situation to be in.
It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.Andy Rooney
That may be a fairly sensible observation but I would suggest that there is a world of difference between getting old with good health and getting old with normal age-related diseases.
The original onset of multiple sclerosis
The onset of your multiple sclerosis may have started with a blurring of your vision or weakness in your legs. If these symptoms lasted for at least 24 hours they would have been called clinically isolated syndrome (CIS).
CIS often precedes a diagnosis of MS. But, is not, in itself, multiple sclerosis.
However, the way your MS will evolve over time is dependant on the original diagnosis.
A lot of work has gone into bringing you this post. We hope you found it interesting and informative. If you have a question, please ask it in the comments at the foot of this post.
If you don’t have a question you can use the comment to say “Hi”. If you have MS – stay strong and follow the warrior code.