The first year after a loved one is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis can be…in a word…overwhelming. Thoughts and many questions can come flooding in, as well as many tears.
I could write (and talk) a long, long time about caregiving. I think that the best strategy comes from facing fears head on. The best way I personally know how to face the things that worry and concern me, is to become aware of them, and to educate myself about them.
When someone you know and love has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, there are steps as a caregiver that you can take to help him or her with the process.
Simplifed, they are the A- E- I- O- U s:
A: Acceptance: Accepting that they truly have a disease is a big thing. This may sound like a simple and rational step, but sometimes this can be a big challenge. Multiple Sclerosis is a true and real disease. It can be mimicked by other diseases, but a neurologist (or neurologists, if second or third opinions are needed/wanted) can make the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis through clinical examination and radiographic testing. I have personally found that it is important to the patient that all team players are on board – patient, loved ones, and doctors. If part of the team doubts the diagnosis, it is truly hard for the patient to get better in any realm (spiritually/emotionally/physically).
E: Education: Education, Education. I can’t say it enough. It is very important to educate oneself about the disease through doctor visits, MS talks (educational and support groups) and MS Society information; there are also plenty of other reliable sources of information that a neurologist/physician or the MS society can provide.
I: Interest: It is important for a caregiver to be interested in being an active member of “the team.” This means coming to doctor’s visits, especially in the first year after diagnosis; learning about Multiple Sclerosis – the disease, the medications…why certain medications are better than others for different disease states, etc. etc. I like seeing active “teams.”
O: Outlook: This is a balance of Realism vs. Positivity. It is a difficult balance to achieve and it is a learning curve in the first year, I assure you. The more that you, as a caregiver, do the A- E- I as above (Acceptance, Education, and Interest), the Outlook balance of Realism vs. Positivity becomes achievable. It is important to learn the “new normal” as a caregiver, and once the new normal is understood, to be optimistic.
U: Understanding: The most important thing of all – to always, always try to be as understanding as humanly possible.
Above all, the first year after diagnosis requires a lot of patience and love as a caregiver. The pharmaceutical medicines that are available now for Multiple Sclerosis are incredible, and just getting better. But, of course, the best medicine anyone can receive who has been newly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (or any disease) is love from his or her loved ones. Love is the best medicine, and always will be.