Caring for a Friend or Loved One With MS

Taking care of someone with a chronic and debilitating disease such as multiple sclerosis (MS) can be a rewarding experience. It also can be a rollercoaster filled with ups, downs, twists, and turns that inevitably arise from the complex and unpredictable nature of the disease.

In fact, caring for a spouse, partner, child, parent, or other loved one with MS can be daunting and exhausting. If you find yourself in the position of caregiver, you will need guidance and support yourself not only so that you can feel confident you're providing the best possible care but, equally important, to prevent yourself from becoming burned out.

Tips for Caring for Someone With MS
Verywell / JR Bee

Know Your Loved One's MS

A basic understanding of multiple sclerosis is essential, of course. But because every patient is different in terms of symptoms and type/degree of disability, it's especially important to understand the specific challenges your loved one is dealing with so that you can address them appropriately.

For instance, even though the person you are caring for may be quite functional physically, he or she may have difficulty speaking and therefore shy away from social gatherings. You would want to both respect this (don't push), and if your loved one is eager to get out and about, help him or her find ways to navigate this roadblock.

Similarly, a person with MS who uses a wheelchair or other mobility assistive device may be concerned about accessibility accommodations. As a caregiver, you can sidestep this potential roadblock by calling ahead or having a backup plan in place before outings.

Take Care of Yourself

Meeting the numerous needs of a person with MS can be exhausting. The physical needs of caring for a loved one with MS will vary but may include bathing, dressing, lifting, feeding, assisting with home therapy exercises, driving, and completing household tasks.

Even non-physical tasks can require a high degree of mental stamina, such as dealing with insurance issues, scheduling and juggling appointments with healthcare providers and therapists, making sure prescriptions are up-to-date, picking up and administering medication, and managing financial tasks your loved can no longer handle.

In order to manage the daily toll of caregiving, it's important to care for your own body and mind:

  • Stay on top of your own health care: Get regular physical exams and stay up-to-date on vaccinations (including a yearly flu shot), routine cancer screenings, dental check-ups, and teeth cleanings.
  • Follow a well-balanced and nutritionally-sound diet: Even on the busiest days, be sure to eat—even if it means healthy on-the-go snacking rather than three solid sit-down meals.
  • Exercise: You may need to keep up your strength and stamina if your loved one's care is physically demanding, but beyond that, exercise is key to overall mental well-being. At least carve out a half hour or so every day to take a walk or do yoga.
  • Get ample sleep: For most people, this means between seven and nine hours of good quality sleep every night. If you're exhausted during the day and your loved one naps, allow yourself a 20-minute snooze to refresh and recharge.
  • Do things you enjoy: Manage your mental health by taking breaks throughout the day to engage in relaxing, enjoyable activities. Try reading a chapter of a book, calling a friend on the phone, or going for a walk while a friend or another caregiver takes care of your loved one.

Look Out for Signs of Depression

It's common among caregivers, studies show. Common symptoms include changes in appetite, sleep problems, and a loss of pleasure in endeavors you once enjoyed. See your healthcare provider if you experience any of these.

Don't Go It Alone

Isolation is a common problem for caregivers. It can add to overall stress and also bring on cabin fever—a feeling of being confined that can lead to irritability and other unpleasant feelings.

One obvious solution is to reach out to other family members or friends who may be available and willing to take on some caregiver tasks or at least keep you company on occasion.

More practically, consider joining a caregiver support group. These engage people who are dealing with many of the same challenges you are, so they are likely to be especially understanding of what you're feeling. This can be especially helpful for assuaging guilt you may sometimes experience (understandably) if and when you feel resentful or angry about your situation.

A caregiver group also can be a source of practical tips for managing specific tasks. And perhaps most importantly, meeting up with others for an hour or so of laughter and distraction can be incredibly refreshing.

Give Yourself a (Long) Break

Short outings—to go to the gym, say, or have coffee with friends—are vital for getting through the day-to-day routine of caregiving. It's just as important to have more extensive timeouts like a night or two away or even a full vacation.

If you're fortunate enough to have family members or other close friends who may be willing to step in and take over while you're away, don't hesitate to ask. If not, consider respite care—bringing in a skilled healthcare aid to stay at your loved one's home. On its website, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers helpful guidance for hiring short-term and long-term help.

A Word From Verywell

At some point, your loved one with MS may need more extensive and skilled care than you can provide. At this point, you might consider hiring a home care nurse or health aid to help. This is not a failure on your part, but rather a normal effect of the progression of the disease. Think of it as an opportunity to spend time with your loved one that focuses on companionship, rather than work, which may well be a welcome change of pace for both of you.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Geng HM, Chuang DM, Yang F, et al. Prevalence and determinants of depression in caregivers of cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(39):e11863. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000011863

Additional Reading

By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.