Usually, multiple sclerosis (MS) is diagnosed when people are between 20 and 50 years of age. However, sometimes it starts when people are older than 50. When it does, doctors refer to it as “late onset MS.” Experts say that when late onset MS occurs, it can be different from MS that starts in younger adults.
General Information About MS
MS occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks nerve cells and the protective tissue (called myelin) that surrounds the nerves. The attack causes scarring that interferes with the brain’s signals to the body. This disrupted communication causes the symptoms of MS, which may include:
- Numbness or weakness in limbs on just one side of the body.
- Feelings of electric shocks when the body is moved a certain way, such as tilting the head forward.
- Poor coordination.
- Blurry vision.
- Double vision.
- Tingling in parts of the body.
Diagnosing Late Onset MS
Studies indicate that around 4 percent of MS cases are classified as late onset. There are some challenges that make diagnosing MS in older people more difficult than in younger ones. For one thing, late onset MS hasn’t been studied as much as MS in younger adults. That means that doctors simply don’t have as much information about how the disease is different in the two age groups. This can cause doctors to miss it in older adults. They may mistake MS symptoms as normal aging. Doctors may also have problems interpreting the tests used to diagnose MS, such as MRI scans. Damage caused by MS can be misinterpreted as damage from vascular diseases that are more common in seniors.
Differences in Progression
Research indicates that when people develop MS later in life, they often progress to disability more quickly than they would if the disease occurred earlier. In one study, researchers determined that people with late onset MS reach disability in around 6.5 years. People who are diagnosed at an earlier age usually progress in about 12.8 years. The study also found that men experience disease progression more quickly than women do.
Regardless of whether your family member has late onset MS or regular MS, home health care can assist them to live more comfortably. Home health care providers can help them to get dressed in the morning and get ready for bed at night. A home health care provider can also help with things around the house, such as cleaning, cooking, and other household tasks. If your family member can no longer drive, home health care can also offer transportation to the places they need to go, such as stores and medical appointments.