walk-in shower. They’ve also invested in a long-term
health-care plan—just in case the time comes when
Jaros can no longer live independently.
diabetes, stroke and cancer. Ignoring important
warning signs increases the chances of missing a
potentially serious diagnosis.
While people with MS can generally expect to live
as long as the rest of the population, aging with MS
may bring with it a number of challenges, big and
small—everything from planning for an uncertain
future to learning to distinguish MS symptoms
from those of growing older.
Is it aging, or is it MS?
Robin Smith, a retired software company executive
in Denver, was first diagnosed with MS in the
mid-1990s, when he was 45. Yet his symptoms,
which included fatigue and muscle weakness, made
him feel older. “I thought, ‘I’m getting a preview
of old age,’” he said.
“As people get older with MS, their physicians
need to address each new complaint, whether it’s
physical or cognitive, and they really need to think
in broader terms for aging-related conditions,”
said Allen Bowling, MD, PhD, medical director
of the Multiple Sclerosis Service at the Colorado
A must: Regular check-ups
Having a regular, thorough check-up to discover what
condition is causing the problem not only ensures
that a diagnosis isn’t missed, but also can prevent
doctors from improperly treating symptoms not
caused by MS. Treating the wrong condition with
medication could lead to unnecessary side effects.
So many symptoms of aging mimic those of MS
that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference
between the conditions. Weakness, fatigue, pain
and balance problems are all hallmarks of MS,
but they can also be symptoms of
arthritis, osteoporosis and other age-
related diseases. MS can affect vision,
but so can cataracts and glaucoma.
Forgetfulness could be a sign of
progressing MS—or it could warn
of oncoming dementia.
Because MS can change over time, even people
who aren’t experiencing symptoms should schedule
regular visits with a neurologist who specializes in
Doctors, too, may attribute symptoms
to MS without investigating
further. “I don’t think health-care
professionals always appreciate
that people with MS can get other
diseases, just like everyone else,”
said George H. Kraft, MD, MS,
Alvord Professor of MS Research and
professor of rehabilitation medicine
at the University of Washington.
People with MS are at risk for the
same conditions that affect any other
older adult, including heart disease,