Alberta hit hard by Multiple Sclerosis
Dr GarryWheeler & Darrel Gregory
Imagine waking up one morning and feeling a tingling in your arms or legs, a loss of balance, a sudden paralysis of your arms, legs or both, or a pain in the back of yours eyes impairing your vision. These might be the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. If the symptoms do result in a diagnosis of MS, you would not be alone. Over 11,000 Albertans live with the disease; one of the highest MS prevalence rates in the world. It typically strikes young adults between the ages of 15 and 40, women three times more often than men and may affect children as young as three. Every day three more people are diagnosed with this disease.
So what is multiple sclerosis? MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system turns on itself and begins to destroy the myelin (insulation) around nerve fibers. As myelin is destroyed, nerve signals slow and physical and cognitive functions become impaired. We don’t know what causes this disease but it is likely a combination of environmental, genetic or viral factors. Unfortunately there is no cure yet.
The most common type of MS is relapsing-remitting, characterized by clearly defined attacks (relapses) followed by complete or partial recovery (remissions). Less common is primary-progressive MS, characterized by nearly continuous worsening of symptoms with no clear relapses or remissions.
MS is particularly devastating since it strikes during prime career and family-building years. This means that many people affected by MS have not been able to build the resources needed to cope with job loss and increasing functional impairment. This places an enormous burden on families and personal support networks including children who may assume the role of a primary caregiver to a parent with MS.
For those with progressive MS, some (about 6%) may eventually require long-term care. Typically we think about old and fragile people in long-term care. This is not the picture in MS. MS residents in long-term care are mostly women, often in their fifties and living with people two to three decades their senior with dementias. Depression, loneliness and isolation are common.
If you would like to help end MS, there are many opportunities to volunteer or participate in one of our MS Walks, Bike Tours or golf events. Contact us 780-463-1190 (Edmonton); toll free at 1-800-268-7582;
or visit us online at www.mssociety.ca/alberta.
Dr Garry Wheeler is Vice President Edmonton and Capital Region Chapter and Alberta Division.
Darrel Gregory is the Director of Communications at Alberta Division of the MS Society of Canada.