According to the ALS Association, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also called Lou Gehrig’s disease — affects the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord that control the voluntary muscles throughout the body. This deprivation of nerve impulses to the muscles causes them to atrophy, and eventually the person affected becomes incapable of making or controlling voluntary muscle movements.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society explains multiple sclerosis (MS) as a multifaceted neurological condition affecting the central nervous system. Because the central nervous system controls all bodily functions, symptoms such as muscular weakness and atrophy, sensory changes, imbalance, and pain can be present.
There is currently no cure for MS or ALS, and most people diagnosed with these diseases will eventually require emotional and physical support from family and friends.
As these diseases progress, a person’s mobility becomes severely affected. Conditions do vary in complexity from person to person, and therefore, so does the care required.
Common caregiver tasks typically include doing things that the person was previously able to manage on their own, such as personal hygiene, mobility, food prep, and eating. While caring for someone with MS or ALS can is a challenging experience, it can also be very rewarding.
5 Tips and Techniques for Caring for a Loved One with ALS or MS
Following are some helpful tips and techniques on caring for a loved one with ALS or MS:
Build a Reliable Support Network
Taking on the care management of a loved one with MS or ALS can bring with it feelings of guilt, depression, isolation, frustration, and anger. Without some personal time for yourself, your coping skills can diminish very quickly.
To be successful, it’s important to prioritize self-care and make time for things like errands, vacations, exercise, and rest. Building a reliable support network with other caregivers, family members, and friends takes time, effort, and open communication, but it’s critical to your success that you can ask for help when you need it, and share struggles related to your common experiences.
Knowledge is your most powerful weapon as a caregiver. Always search out as much information as possible about ALS, MS, and ask for advice from others in your same situation for their top three pearls of wisdom on the art of caregiving. The more you know, the more equipped you will be in providing optimal care and support.
Consider Using a Medical Alert System
Medical Alert systems provide 24/7 access to trained specialists who can offer the right assistance at the right time for your situation. Getting your loved one a medical alert system will help you feel assured that s/he is safe even when you can’t be there in person. Access to help will always be just the push of a button away. Choose the add-on fall detection option for extra protection that will even call for help automatically if a sudden fall is detected.
Look Into Options for Mobility Assistance
Caregivers are often called on to provide mobility assistance such as walking, transporting, and getting up from a chair — all of which require a good deal of patience and physical strength. Recognize the limits of your own abilities and enlist the help of assistive mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and transfer vests that are designed to help you safely move your loved one with less strain on your body.
Find Time to Do Things that Make You Happy
Many caregivers may not get adequate personal time, which can increase stress levels and feelings of isolation. Take care of yourself both physically and mentally, and keep up with friends and neighbors. Look for ways to get outside and see others. Go for a walk every day, or discover new hobbies or group activities (whether online or offline). Love to ride a bike or go for morning walks? Check your local bike shop for a riding club, or your township community for others who like to walk in the mornings or evenings. Join a book group, movie club, or have a friend over and do puzzles once a week. Anything social and active that you can fit into your day is a good way to alleviate stress and stay mentally and emotionally healthy.
Is Assisted Living or Memory Care needed? Get Started
If your loved one needs more support than you are able to provide at home it may be time to consider senior living options including Assisted Living or Memory Care. Specialized care settings can support seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnoses as well as those experiencing progressive memory loss. If you’re looking to start a senior living search Medical Alert is here to help—we have teamed up with A Place for Mom who is the leading senior living advisory service in the United States. A Place for Mom’s expert advisors help caregivers and their families find the right senior living options for their aging loved ones through personalized referrals, tour scheduling and move-in support. Their services come at no cost to families as A Place for Mom is paid for by its network of 17,000+ participating communities and home care providers.
While it’s physically and personally challenging to care for a loved one with MS or ALS, it can also be incredibly fulfilling. Through it all, staying mindful of your own needs, as well as theirs, means you’re delivering the best possible care you can to your loved one in their time of need.