Support for the Supporter

Care partners are a vital source of support and assistance to those living with chronic illnesses like MS, and it’s important to realize that they need just as much care and support for themselves in order to maintain that role of care partner to others. Self-care often falls by the wayside as burnout and exhaustion from daily caregiving tasks overpowers all else; that is why calling out some of the crucial resources and services available to care partners is so important. In a previous post we talked about some of MSAA’s resources for care partners, so we thought it would help to expand on this to include some other types of community sources of assistance.

Offices of Aging and Disability Services:

These offices provide resources and services for caregivers that include respite care, homecare assistance and other community programs. Individuals can search by location for this office contact:

https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx

Centers for Independent Living:

These centers offer information and referral services as well as some direct programs to those living with disabilities and are a good source of information to caregivers. To find one’s nearest location they can search by state/city/county here:

http://www.ilru.org/projects/cil-net/cil-center-and-association-directory

ARCH National Respite Network:

Resource providing a respite services locator, funding and caregiver support contacts, webinars and publications for caregiver needs:

https://archrespite.org/

Family Caregiver Alliance:

Organization that does policy and advocacy work for caregiver needs; they also offer caregiver education, online support groups and links to state by state resources:

https://www.caregiver.org/

Caregiver Action Network:

An organization providing education, peer support, and resources to family caregivers across the country:

http://caregiveraction.org/

Veterans Caregiver Support:

Support resources and tools are provided to those caring for veterans. Resources are also provided for specific conditions that include MS:

https://www.caregiver.va.gov/

https://www.caregiver.va.gov/Tips_by_Diagnosis/MS.asp

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Five MSAA Resources for Care Partners

MSAA strives to be a leading resource to the MS community by providing free programs and services. But did you know that MSAA’s free programs and services aren’t just for individuals with MS?  Here are five MSAA resources that care partners can take advantage of, too:

  1. MSAA offers in-person educational programs about a variety of topics related to living with multiple sclerosis that are hosted throughout the country. These programs are presented with guest speakers who are experts in their fields, allowing attendees the chance to ask direct questions from the people who know best.
  2. This blog! MS Conversations features blog posts from many wonderful guest bloggers who are able to give insight and a voice to how individuals with MS experience their disease.  While everyone’s disease course and symptoms may be different, their posts offer unique perspectives that only a person living with MS can provide.
  3. MSAA’s award-winning publications are not just helpful for individuals with MS. These publications feature detailed information about various topics including: a general overview about multiple sclerosis, different therapy options, MS relapses, MS progression, and more.
  4. My MSAA Community, the free online forum where people can feel free to share information and experiences with other friendly and supportive members. Care partners are welcome to share their questions and get answers from other members of the MS community who may have had similar experiences.
  5. Feel free to also call MSAA’s toll-free Helpline at (800) 532-7667, ext. 154 to speak to one of our Client Services Specialists who are there to help answer any questions and offer additional resources if they are needed. Our Client Services Specialists can also be reached via our online chat feature, or via email at MSquestions@mymsaa.org
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Wellness and MS

By Lisa Scroggins

Before I had to start using a walker to get around, I was still working full time, plus I had an hour one-way commute to work. Honestly, I worked far more than the 40 hours a week that counts as full time. But in those days, I used to joke that my healthcare was an additional part time job, in itself. Between going to the clinic every thirty days for an infusion, and handling refills for other medications, as well as the other “normal” things that everyone has to do (teeth cleaning, physicals, mammograms, etc.), it took up too much time, in my opinion.

I had it so easy! Now, it really is a kind of job. After I stopped working, almost three years ago, I told myself that I would dedicate myself to “rehab.” With a lot of other life details that intervened, I didn’t do the best job of rehabbing on my own. There was a little bit of denial; I believe that deep down, I thought maybe without the stress of my job and commute, I would just naturally “get better.” Probably, this won’t be a shock to anyone, but that’s not what happens! It took me awhile to come to terms with my new and unwelcome status. Much of the turmoil surrounding my leaving the workforce, and the other big changes that took place in our lives has calmed and life feels a little bit stable now. And so, my new job/work of rehab has begun in earnest.

I have come to embrace a sort of DIY wellness attitude, as I no longer enjoy a “yes, but” condition, as in “Yes, I have this disease called MS, BUT I can still work, and it is invisible to most people.” It’s plain to see that I’m disabled. After I left my job, I spent a good year and a half traveling to an MS specialty clinic that’s within a day’s drive for me, hoping that maybe there was a “holy grail” that the ordinary neurologist wasn’t hip to. There isn’t. I did learn a lot that I hadn’t known before, and I also learned a hard lesson: not all neurologists, even the specialists, have a decent bedside manner. I had a gut reaction to the specialist  the very first time I saw her, but told myself that as long as she might be able to help me, I shouldn’t worry about the touchy-feely part. I know better, and I’m not sure why I didn’t trust my gut, something I always told my kids to do. I’ve stopped going to that doctor, since her demeanor was so objectionable to me. While I may return to that clinic, it will be to a different neurologist. I’ve empowered myself to only seek out assistance from doctors who seem to care about me, something paramount for mental wellness.

Nowadays, I spend a lot of time reading and researching everything from up-and-coming medications to figuring out new and different ways to exercise. One new issue for me is pain. Except for the occasional flashpoint of trigeminal neuralgia, pain wasn’t an issue for me. In retrospect, this new symptom first started to occur about a year and a half before I stopped working, and if I hadn’t made a note of it, I wouldn’t have realized how it sneaked up on me. What’s worse is that it has continued to develop and progress. In some online MS groups, a lot of people with MS do have pain. Lots of them take powerful drugs to try to control it. As bad as my back hurts at times, I do not want to use a pain-killer, and would prefer not to add any more drugs at all. I have learned that when the pain seems especially bad, what helps me the most is to apply a cold pack. I tried heating pads, and those sticky thermal pads that you can buy in stores. My husband bought a pad that can be used for warmth or cold. On a whim, we tried putting it in the freezer then inserting it in its carrier and wearing it so that it covers my shoulders and upper back. For me, it’s far more effective than any of the heat methods I tried. I’ve gotten so smart that I no longer wait until the pain is excruciating, but actually try to ward it off. I know that my sarcastic attitude doesn’t always help me, but really, why on earth do I beat myself up for not knowing? What matters is that I found some relief. I try to be open to new ways, even if I don’t believe they will help. There are other approaches to managing pain, too. I take a lot more NSAIDS than I used to (usually Aleve or ibuprofen) but have deemed it necessary. I even tried some homeopathic stuff, but didn’t notice any affect at all. What does seem to help is sticking to a schedule of exercise. I know that it’s vital, but it remains a challenge to structure my day around that. The effort to manage my time so that exercise is a priority, yet doesn’t prevent me from doing other things remains a struggle. For example, it’s important to do food preparation, which involves deciding what to eat, making the shopping lists, planning the menus, and actually preparing the food, all of which used to be easy. I’m still learning how to structure my days so I have built-in rest times between tasks, and preventing pain and fatigue that destroy the rest of the day.

The other thing that really is phenomenal is the smorgasbord of information that’s available to everyone, including people with MS: the internet. It’s friend and foe both, and if you’ve dipped your toe into it at all, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I have found a few resources that I turn to again and again, because I find them to be chock-full of information. My favorite online tool has been “MS News and Views,” hosted by a patient with MS. I am not a fan of watching videos on my smart phone or any other way when it comes to MS; I just prefer to read rather than watch. But what I like about this resource is:

  1. It’s run by a fellow patient and,
  2. Information is available in many ways: MSVN channel on YouTube, with recordings of presentations, E-newsletter, Blog-Talk Radio series archive, a Webinar Series, and much more.  The website is: www.msviews.org. The YouTube channel is called MSViewsandNews Learning Channel. There are presentations about exercise adaptations, nutrition, MRI’s, and medication. I have learned to love watching videos and this website is the reason! Some of the videos are almost as good as a visit to a doctor, in terms of the information and education made available.

Wellness in the context of a chronic, life-long disease may seem oxymoronic, but it’s not. I challenge you to take back some control and avail yourselves of a plethora of self-management.

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What To Do If You’re Uninsured

We know that life can be very unpredictable at times and no matter how much we try to anticipate obstacles and changes, there may be times that we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, not knowing how to navigate the shift. With these changes sometimes come circumstances where one might find themselves without health insurance coverage for much needed medical care. It’s important to know where to go to try and find help with continued medical care needs.

If you’ve experienced some type of life change, like the loss of a job, moving to a new location, or getting married or having children and you find yourself uninsured, you may qualify to enroll in a Special Enrollment Period through the Health Insurance Marketplace to see if you can obtain healthcare coverage outside of the open enrollment deadline.

Local hospital systems sometimes offer financial assistance programs called ‘charity care’ to help those who are uninsured with medical costs accrued through the hospital. You can contact the hospital’s financial billing office for information on this assistance to see if you qualify to receive care from doctors and services provided through the hospital.

You can also try to access primary/general medical care follow up through federally qualified health centers in your area that work with individuals who are uninsured. These centers offer different services that include primary healthcare, dental care, women’s health services and routine immunizations, and physical exams. For those without insurance, a sliding fee scale payment option (based on your income and ability to pay for services) is sometimes available through the centers.

For possible help with medication costs, you can contact the manufacturer of the medication directly for information on any prescription cost assistance programs they provide. The MS Disease Modifying Therapies also have patient assistance programs that help uninsured clients by providing information and guidance for cost assistance they may qualify for with the treatment. By working with these different resources, uninsured individuals can try to continue maintaining their medical care and follow up.

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Adjusting to Change

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Change is something that continually occurs throughout life for all people and to different degrees. Change may have very mild, subtle effects, or very significant effects depending on what’s being altered. Sometimes change can be a good thing, and sometimes not. One of the most difficult concepts to accept about change is that at times you have no control over it. In our individualized society we try to live by the mantra that we control our lives and what happens to us day-by-day, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the unexpected arises and we play no part in its occurrence. An unexpected illness, a loss, or other unforeseen situations are some of the incidences that can transpire due to no control of our own. When the unexpected occurs, what can you do to help adjust and cope with this new-found circumstance, that wasn’t necessarily welcome or planned for?

  • Talk to others about the changes that have occurred. Communicating to trusted loved ones, friends or your healthcare team can help you explore ways to adjust by receiving outside perspectives.
  • Reflect on what the change has affected. By recognizing what’s different you can make your own adjustments that will work for you in your day to day.
  • Explore your support resources. If change has had emotional, physical, or social impacts for you, it’s important to know who you can reach out to for help.
  • Bring focus to things that you enjoy and that you can control in your day-to-day. Make decisions that help to ensure that changes are modified to fit your needs.

Change can take some getting used to, especially if it’s something unpredictable. Though some things are uncontrollable and unforeseen at times, individuals do hold influence over the way they can approach change and react to it. It’s how you make the change work for you that’s significant.

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Getting Help at Home When You Have MS

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With years of increasing research and data on the condition of multiple sclerosis, it’s known that MS can be unpredictable and ever-changing in its course, potentially having an impact on different aspects of life for those affected. For some individuals, there may be a time when MS symptoms create change that requires additional assistance in the home, to try to help manage daily activities and duties of the household. Meal preparation, shopping, personal care, and chore responsibilities are some things that may require extra help and attention to complete. Asking for this help can be difficult for some; noticing that how things were done before may look different now and that more help is needed for certain tasks can be hard to accept. Change can be challenging, but it’s important to know that you are not alone in this, that at one time or another everyone’s asked for help, no matter the task. Figuring out what your needs are in the home and where to find help are important parts in starting this process.

Examining what it is that you need help with in the home is a good first step in trying to find assistance. Talking with healthcare professionals like your doctor and possibly a physical or occupational therapist can help determine what your needs are in the home pertaining to your medical condition. Family, friends, or significant others can assist you with this process as well, providing feedback as to what may be helpful and needed to complete certain tasks and duties in the household. Whether it is personal care attendance services or assistive equipment devices, there are a range of services that may be beneficial to you. After your needs have been assessed within the home, supportive resources and contacts can be made to identify potential sources of this assistance.

If you have health insurance coverage, a contact can be made to your insurance provider to identify potential equipment items or in-home health care services that may be a part of your coverage plan. Your insurance provider would be able to explain what services, if any, are offered within your particular health plan. In regards to possible community supports, there are homecare resources and service programs offered through county offices in the U.S. called area agencies on aging. These county offices provide information and referral services regarding community homecare assistance to those with disabilities and older individuals. They maintain a database of information for home health services in the area, as well as caregiver resources and support services.

For individuals whose needs may not currently be at the level of requiring additional assistance in the home, it may be beneficial to explore long-term care options to have a plan in place for potential future needs. Researching long-term care insurance coverage options and other benefits can be useful to attain additional information for homecare services. The non-profit organization Life Happens provides education concerning long- term care insurance benefits and ways to find coverage.

If you do find you need additional assistance in the home, it may be helpful to have a discussion with your doctor first in regards to what your needs are, as this can lead to identifying sources of support within the community.

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Work, work, work…

In today’s world, work tends to be one of the main focal points of everyday conversation. What work you do, how long you’ve been doing it, and what work you hope to do in the future become areas of focus. Therefore it can be difficult when some of these conversation starters touch on a subject that’s a little less defined for some people, especially those having challenges in a job position due to a disability.

Employment concerns and issues can arise for all individuals within the workforce, and when you throw a disease like multiple sclerosis into the mix these issues can cause frustration and confusion. Some individuals have difficulties deciding which work arena would be most appropriate for their skill set and abilities, while others question how long they will be able to continue the work they are currently doing. These are all relevant and important questions to consider, as many find themselves faced with these thoughts. What’s important to know is that work issues are something you can discuss with others so you are not faced with these questions alone. Your doctor, healthcare and social work professionals, family, friends and other resources may be able to assist in this process.

There are also other outlets of information and resources where one can possibly find assistance with employment issues. A Vocational Rehabilitation office is a resource throughout each state that is designed to assist those with disabilities on information and resources regarding employment changes. There is also a resource called the Job Accommodation Network, www.askjan.org that can offer information regarding workplace accommodations which can create greater accessibility to those with disabilities in the workplace. If you’re experiencing workplace issues you’re welcome to call the MSAA Helpline at phone (800) 532-7667, ext. 154 or email us at msquestions@mymsaa.org. Again, though employment issues can be challenging and create many difficult questions, there are potential resources to help you along the way.

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