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Aging with MS


I hate to admit it, but I’m getting kind of old.

That’s not to say that 68 is really old, but I’m probably older than a lot of you who are reading this. I’m also 36 years old in “MS years.” I was diagnosed the month that Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination to run for U.S. President, August of 1980, so I’ve had MS nearly half of my life. My MS and I have traveled down lots of roads together.

Are there common mechanisms that older folks, like me, have used to handle our multiple sclerosis that younger MS patients can use to improve their own later lives? That’s what researches at Memorial University in St. John’s, Canada, set out to discover. They surveyed nearly 700 of us who are older than 55 and who’ve been living with MS for more than 20 years. The researchers then looked for common factors that allowed us to age relatively well, even with our MS. It’s hoped that learning from these experiences can help young and middle-aged people with MS live better lives as they grow older.

Seven themes were identified in the research report which was published in the Multiple Sclerosis International journal last August:  social connections, attitude and outlook on life, lifestyle choices and habits, health care system, spirituality and religion, independence, and finances.  But the first three jumped out as being the most important:

Social Connections

Social connections was the most common factor that participants said contributed to their healthy aging. This included relationships with family, neighbors, and even pets.  Activities outside the home that provided opportunities for social engagement were also highly valued.  They included support groups, volunteer work, and community organizations.

“My volunteer work with my dog and the hospital (patient advocacy) has kept me stimulated.” — 59-year-old woman from Quebec.

“(I value) people close to me who accept my MS and give me all the encouragement and support that I need, plus allow me to do the activities that I wish to do and at my level and speed.” — 66-year-old woman from Nova Scotia.

Attitude and Outlook

Attitude and outlook ranked second. Older people reported adopting ways of thinking that helped them cope with the challenges of living with MS. That included some very simple, simple things such as having a positive attitude and being optimistic.  Determination and perseverance was also important.

“Being determined has helped – I should have stopped work (teacher grade 1-3) five years before I did, perseverance.” — 64-year-old man from Ontario.

Participants also reported that they accepted living with MS. They said they understood how to work within their limitations and to focus on their abilities. Humor and maintaining their self-identity were also important.  People frequently explained, “I am not my disease.”

Lifestyle Choices

Basically, this meant they took care of their body and their mind.  It included eating healthy, getting exercise and adequate rest, managing medications, and using alternative therapies.

“I have a healthy diet and get lots of rest,” 57-year-old Karen reported. “This year I am able to take Wednesdays as a sick day. This is extremely helpful. I can’t walk because I don’t have much strength in my legs. I get exercise on my exercise bike. I do 20 minutes a day. It really helps me feel better. I do not eat red meat.”

It also meant doing things like a hobby, working, being outdoors, and traveling.

Also mentioned as an important activity, and one that contributed to their sense of purpose, was searching for resources and information about MS.  As someone who writes about MS, that’s good to hear.

Medical Care

Not in the top three, but something that can’t be overlooked, is health care.  We’re talking about the whole health care system here. Having access to high quality care was very important to respondents. People described high quality care as care that was prompt, reflexive, and appropriate. Older people with MS also highly valued relationships with their care providers. They valued health care professionals who listened to their opinions, acknowledged their feelings, and gave them encouragement.

But there was also frustration with lack of access to treatment alternatives and bad experiences with some medical professionals.

We hear a lot of comments about this subject online.

What About You?

How do you see the next years of your life?  Are you doing things today that could make a big difference as you grow older?

(You can read more of my columns on my personal website:


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
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  1. Judy says:

    I take herbal HRT (to encourage ms protective hormone presence), various alternative things to help ms, a Mediterranean diet for about 35 years, exercycle, Yoga, meditation and hope/trust for the best.

  2. Jen says:

    This was an uplifting article to read as a young person diagnosed over a year ago at age 20. I am in my graduate phase of becoming a physical therapist and I don’t let MS hold me back. I also am finishing out my last year of NCAA eligibility playing field hockey.
    It is interesting to hear from people who have had the disease for 30+ years and the advice they can give! Any hope for our future (personal support, diets, research) helps me stay positive!

    • Ed TobiasEd Tobias says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jen. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, “you go, girl!” BTW, my wife is a retired PT. It’s a great profession and you now have an “insider’s” knowledge that’s going to benefit each patient you treat.


  3. I have been diagnosed MS for 10years when I lost my ability to walk. I was a working farrier (horseshoer) at the time (physically stressful), and had been for 35 years. I now spend my time on promoting my own product E3Live FOR HORSES which I had found very beneficial to horses hooves while I was still a farrier. Although this is not as financially rewarding as the farrier business had been,it is helping many horses who suffer from hoof diseases such as laminitis, white line disease, and crumbly and weak hoof material. This in itself is very gratifying.

    • Ed TobiasEd Tobias says:

      Hi Wayne,

      Thanks for your comments. Since you’ve worked with horses I wonder if you’re aware of hippotherapy or therapeutic riding? After having not been on a horse since my teenage years I got back in the saddle a few years ago, at age 64. Working with a trainer certified in hippotherapy I found that riding once a week for 30 or 45 minutes really helped my balance, and my core and leg strength.


  4. Carolyn says:

    Thank you for such a great article! My boyfriend was diagnosed with MS when he was around 9 years old and now at 24 he is accomplishing his dreams and more. As you know sometimes the future can be scary when a loved one has MS and we try to always keep a positive attitude when dealing with life. It is reassuring to know that “seeing the glass half full” can go a really long way! He is currently going to school for construction management and engineering as well as working on the field. Although sometimes life gets to be too overwhelming we try our hardest to take things as slowly and calmly as we can. Your article has given me a lot of hope and I cannot wait to show him this article later today!

    • Ed TobiasEd Tobias says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m pleased that you liked the column and I certainly hope that it will be useful to your boyfriend. As I often say, even a pair of deuces can be a winning hand if you play the cards well.


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