If you’re living with multiple sclerosis (MS), maintaining your well-being and independence may involve changing the way that you do some things. You may find it helpful, or necessary, to adjust areas of your home and lifestyle in order to make daily tasks easier and less tiring.
Focusing on good self-care also makes a difference. Following a well-balanced diet and getting regular physical movement may reduce the impact of your symptoms. Here are seven daily tips for managing MS.
1. Create convenience
Creating convenience reduces the daily demands on your energy. You might be surprised how little changes can make a big difference. Here are a few simple examples that might be helpful depending on your own individual circumstances:
- Keep a journal — either hand-written or digital — so that all the information you need about your condition is in one place.
- Consider using voice-to-text software so you don’t have to type on your computer.
- Place the items you use most often in the location that’s easiest to reach.
- Consider using occupational therapy tools to help with fine motor tasks such as pulling on socks and opening jars.
- Invest in a mini fridge for the room in which you spend most of your time.
- Use a smartphone app to schedule reminders.
Remember that you can ask friends and family members for help. They can help you reorganize or go shopping with you for anything you need to make convenience-oriented changes.
2. Plan for comfort
Many people who live with MS are sensitive to changes in temperature. Your symptoms may worsen when you feel too warm. This is not actual progression of the disease, which means your symptoms will likely improve when the heat is reduced.
To help you avoid overheating, consider these options:
- Try hot weather clothing containing gel packs that stay cool.
- Purchase a firmer mattress with a cooling surface or buy cooling pads for your existing mattress.
- Take cool baths.
- Stay hydrated so that your body can better regulate its temperature.
It’s also useful simply to use fans or air-conditioning in your home. When it comes to keeping your body comfortable day or night, a few comfort tips may help:
- Sleep with a pillow under your knees to reduce the pressure on your back.
- Stretch daily to relieve muscle soreness and spasticity.
- Build your core strength to reduce back, joint, and neck pain.
3. Conserve energy
Fatigue is a common symptom of MS. Remember to pace yourself throughout the day and take breaks as needed. You can also consider making these changes to the way you complete routine tasks:
- Work while sitting as needed, such as when you fold laundry.
- Use a trolley for setting and clearing the table or putting away laundry.
- Keep cleaning supplies in every room rather than transporting them around the house.
- Use a bath bench and a removable shower head so you can sit while showering.
- Avoid bar soap that can slip away and make you reach, and instead choose a liquid soap dispenser.
- Purchase lightweight bedding for less restriction on your movements.
4. Think about safety
Certain common MS symptoms, such as reduced motor control and balance issues, can potentially impact your physical safety. Talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms that might put you at risk for a fall.
If you or your doctor have concerns, you can help protect yourself with some basic updates to your home and changes to your habits:
- Buy comfortable shoes with good tread.
- Use a non-skid bath mat.
- Make sure appliances like your kettle, coffee pot, and iron have an auto shutoff.
- Point sharp utensils downward when loading a dishwasher.
- Always leave the bathroom door unlocked.
- Keep your cell phone with you at all times.
- Add extra handrails where they might help, such as on the stairs or in your bathroom.
Remember to share your concerns about falling with family and friends. They can check in on you if you’re spending time on your own.
5. Stay active
Although fatigue is a common symptom of MS, exercise can help. Exercise also enhances your strength, balance, endurance, and flexibility. In turn, you may find that mobility is easier. Physical activity also reduces your risk of certain secondary diagnoses, such as heart disease.
Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be intense cardio or heavy weights to be beneficial. It can be a gentler activity such as gardening or household chores. Your goal is to be active and move every day.
6. Eat well
A healthy diet is good for anyone, but when you live with a chronic condition like MS, eating right is even more important. A balanced, nutrient-rich diet helps your entire body function better.
Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources each day. You’ll also need to eat a mix of carbohydrates — aim for whole-grain options, such as oats or whole-wheat bread —along with sources of healthy fats, such as nuts, avocados, or extra virgin olive oil.
Talk to your doctor about whether they recommend any specific supplements. Some people living with MS take vitamin D and biotin, among other options. Never take a new supplement without letting your doctor know.
7. Train your brain
MS can cause cognitive impairment, which in turn may lead to greater difficulties managing day-to-day life. But early research suggests that you can take steps to train your brain and improve overall cognitive function.
In a small 2017 study, participants with MS used a computer-assisted neuropsychological cognitive training program. Those who completed the training showed improvement in memory and phonetic fluency.
You don’t need to be part of a research study to try cognitive training. There are plenty of options for different types of cognitive training that you can try at home, such as working on puzzles and mind games, studying a second language, or learning a musical instrument. These activities haven’t necessarily been proven to help with MS symptoms, but they will put your brain to work.
Simple changes to your home, habits, and daily routines may make a big difference when it comes to managing your life with MS. Aim to make your environment more convenient and safer, take steps to eat healthfully, and get as much physical activity as you can throughout the day.
Reach out to your family and friends for help when you need it, and seek guidance from your doctor. By taking the time and energy to care for yourself, you may reduce the impact of your symptoms and feel healthier overall.